Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said a failure to observe safety regulations had contributed to the death toll in the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk.

Emergency Ministry officials said the fire engulfed the hall in the early hours of Thursday and preliminary investigation showed it broke out in one of the dozens of slot machines.

Soccer fans had gathered in the hall to watch the televised Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Chelsea.

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“People were unable to get out for one reason — there was only one entrance and one exit,” Tymoshenko told reporters after visiting the site in Dnipropetrovsk, her home town.

“It is quite clear that had safety rules been observed, there would have been fewer deaths and injuries.”

Television pictures showed the gutted hall with blackened slot machines and dangling wires.

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“We saw the security guard trying to get the fire extinguisher working,” survivor Serhiy Hatanov told Reuters TV.

“At first there was a flash. I don’t remember anything after that. There were shouts about the emergency exit but I quickly gathered that no one knew where it was. There were no signs.”

Interfax Ukraine news agency said two female employees of the hall were among the dead. It said dozens of firefighters and rescue workers were sent to the scene after security staff were overwhelmed by smoke and flames.

Local officials, quoted by Ukrainian media, reported that the hall’s director had been detained.

Tymoshenko later chaired a cabinet meeting in Kiev which recommended that the Finance Ministry suspend for a month all licences extended to gaming establishments pending safety checks.

Dingy gaming halls have sprung up in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics since the fall of communism, prompting calls by officials to move them from city centres to the outskirts.

Officials in Dnipropetrovsk ordered all casinos, gambling halls and night clubs closed immediately for checks. (Writing by Ron Popeski)

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