BRASILIA: The Brazilian government declared three days of mourning for 245 victims of a nightclub fire disaster so FIFA duly cancelled celebrations marking 500 days until the start of the 2014 World Cup finals.

The fire, in the southern city of Santa Maria, started after a member of a band playing at the Kiss nightclub lit a flare on stage. Most of the victims were students who died of smoke inhalation after the deadliest fire in Brazil in five decades.

President Dilma Rousseff, who cut short a visit to Chile, visited survivors at the city’s Caridade hospital along with government ministers. She said: “It is a tragedy for all of us.”

FIFA statements of condolence also noted that “the event marking the 500 days to go to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, previously scheduled for this Monday … has been cancelled in respect for the people who died in Santa Maria.”

FIFA’s secretary-general Jerome Valcke had flown to Brasilia for the cancelled ceremony.

Earlier – and before the nightclub disaster – he had hailed the first test matches in the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza. This is the first stadium ‘delivered’ ahead of the finals.

A doubleheader was staged in the northeastern Copa do Nordeste with Fortaleza and Sport drawing 0-0 then Bahia beating Ceara 1-0 with a goal from former Brazil and Manchester United midfielder Kleberson.

The matches were preceded by a ceremony attended by Valcke along with organising delegate Ronaldo, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, and Jose Maria Marin, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation.

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