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Romania PM Ponta resigns over Bucharest nightclub fire

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has resigned after some 20,000 people took to the streets to protest over a nightclub fire that killed 32 people.

Friday night’s blaze in Bucharest started when a band performing at the club set off fireworks inside.

Demonstrators called for Mr Ponta to step down, complaining of government corruption and poor safety supervision.

“I’m handing in my mandate, I’m resigning, and implicitly my government too,” Mr Ponta said in a statement.

“I hope the government’s resignation will satisfy the people who came out in the streets,” he added.

Ponta under fire

In September, Mr Ponta became the first sitting Romanian prime minister to go on trial charged with corruption. He faces allegations of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

He denies the charges and has accused prosecutors of being “totally unprofessional”.

He was one of three people urged by the protesters to resign in the wake of the fire. They also singled out the mayor of the Bucharest district, where the nightclub fire occurred, and the country’s interior minister.

The protesters chanted “shame on you” and “assassins”, and carried banners reading “corruption kills”.

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Petru Clej, Bucharest

More than 100 people are still in hospital and some of them in a critical condition, after suffering burns and poisoning in the fire. Doctors fear the toll could rise.

A young woman who lost two friends in the blaze was clearly angry.

“We the young are the future. That is what we were told, that is how we were educated. And when something very serious like that happens and young people die, we see it as an attack against us,” she said.

“Things must change and change must come from those who govern us.”

The blaze

The fire at Colectiv on Friday broke out as some 400 people gathered for a free rock concert by the band Goodbye to Gravity. Survivors said the fireworks set off inside the club ignited foam decor.

The club’s single exit was overwhelmed in the panic that followed. More than 180 people were injured.

Romanian people pay their respects for the club blaze victims by lighting candles in front of the fire accident site in Bucharest, Romania, 01 November 2015.
Image copyrightEPA
Image captionRomanians lit candles in Bucharest to remember the victims

The three owners of the club have been arrested amid allegations that the venue was overcrowded, lacked the required number of emergency exits, and may not have been authorised to hold such a concert.

Concerns that safety was compromised because of corruption, a long-standing issue in Romania, has fuelled public anger.

What happens next

President Klaus Iohannis will name an interim prime minister, before launching talks with political parties about forming a new government. Mr Ponta has said he will stay on until an interim successor is in place.

Romania’s junior ruling coalition party, the UNPR, said in a statement on Wednesday it was willing to keep supporting the existing coalition government, in which it shares power with Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (PSD).

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“We back our coalition further and are available to create a new government majority alongside the PSD,” it said.

The UNPR’s support ensures the coalition government retains a parliamentary majority.


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