Disaster sparks call for youth entertainment

A RESTAURANT owner has urged businesses and the Government to urgently establish venues for youth entertainment following the death of 12 youngsters aged under 20 in the Lan Kwai Fong tragedy.

Lan Kwai Fong Tenants' Association vice-chairman, Mr Barry Kalb, said the association would meet today to start compiling its submission to the inquiry, but he would start lobbying himself for youth entertainment venues.

Twenty people died after a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 moved downhill after the midnight countdown on New Year's Eve. Twelve were aged 15 to 19 and six were under the legal drinking age of 18.

Mr Kalb said most of the casualties were not regular Lan Kwai Fong patrons but youths who were on the streets because ''they had nowhere else to go''.

He said: ''Reports of people spilling out of nightclubs and restaurants are not accurate because most of the people were outside.

''This is the third New Year's Eve in a row we have seen severe crowding on the streets. It's the third year in a row the streets have been jammed with almost all young people - three-quarters of the kids have been Chinese and a quarter Western.

''It was an incredible crush again but they were not regular Lan Kwai Fong-goers. They were mostly young people who came down to see the action.'' Mr Kalb said many of the youths were outside because they were under the legal drinking age of 18. Some youths probably bought alcohol in supermarkets and got drunk before they came to the area.

The association regularly discussed underage drinking, and many nightclubs carried out age checks.

Mr Kalb said the tenants would not view smaller crowds as less takings because people in the streets actually blocked business.

''Some of the more popular places actually complained there weren't many patrons in their places because people couldn't get in. If there had been a fire the people inside wouldn't have been able to get out,'' he said.

He urged Government and businesses to develop youth entertainment venues.

''It takes a tragedy like this to get people thinking and talking about it.

''Hongkong does not provide a site for anybody, let alone kids. There needs to be a place to go, a good place which appeals to young people and where they don't serve alcohol.'' He said government and businesses should consider donating premises.

''The parents of many of the children on the streets are the heads of these businesses. They should be presenting some proposals to give their children somewhere to go,'' he said.

Mr Kalb also said the association was unlikely to compensate victims.

It had not taken out public liability insurance because the New Year's Eve gathering was not an official Lan Kwai Fong event such as a street carnival. The association also had warned police for several years of the potential dangers of huge crowds gathering in the area.