updated 12/26/2005 12:37:38 AM ET 2005-12-26T05:37:38

A fire at an unlicensed bar killed at least 26 people and injured 11 in a Chinese city near Hong Kong, news reports and a local official said Monday.

The fire broke out late Sunday in the bar in Zhongshan, a mainland city that abuts the former Portuguese colony of Macau west of Hong Kong, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

At least 26 people were killed, said an official who answered the phone at the propaganda office of Zhongshan’s Communist Party branch. The official refused to give his name.

“This small bar is an illegal business inside a restaurant,” the man said. “The bar owner has been detained for investigation.”

Police and fire officials in Zhongshan refused to release any information.

Zhongshan is part of the booming Pearl River Delta region around Hong Kong whose factories form the heart of China’s export-driven manufacturing industries.

Witnesses quoted by Hong Kong Cable TV said there was an explosion before the bar fire. Police were shown cordoning off the building and nearby roads as debris was cleaned up.

It was the second time in five years that China has suffered a deadly Christmas Day fire.

In 2000, a fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the central city of Luoyang, killing 309 people who were celebrating the holiday.

A court sentenced 23 people held responsible for the disaster to up to 13 years in prison.

China has suffered a string of such fires in shopping malls, movie theaters and other public places despite repeated official promises to improve safety.

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