…41 children, 23 others die in fire incident
The longtime governor of a Russian region where a huge mall inferno killed dozens of people; most of them children, resigned on Sunday after bitter criticism over his response to the tragedy.
Aman Tuleyev, who had been at the helm of the coal-mining region of Kemerovo since 1997, said in a video address that he could no longer remain at his post with “such a heavy burden” and that quitting was “the only right choice”.
The Kremlin swiftly said that President Vladimir Putin had accepted his resignation.
Tuleyev’s move is unusual as top officials in Russia rarely resign over failings in the emergency response to deadly tragedies.
But the huge fire which ravaged a shopping centre in the Siberian industrial city of Kemerovo last Sunday, killing at least 64 people including 41 children, plunged Russia into shock.
Some parents lost all their children, and the youngest victim was a two-year-old boy.
Many people who lost relatives have said they perished because of inaction by firefighters and police lacking the necessary equipment and skills, while some said a cinema door was locked, trapping children inside.
Tuleyev, who himself lost a young relative in the blaze, came under heavy criticism for failing to visit the scene of the tragedy in the first few days or meet with angry relatives.
Putin had initially refused to sack the 73-year-old governor despite a rare protest which saw thousands of people pack a square in Kemerovo on Tuesday, the same day Putin travelled to the scene of the tragedy.
Tuleyev apologised to the president over the rally, where protesters also called for Putin’s resignation, calling its organisers troublemakers.
Officials have said that multiple safety rules were violated, the fire alarm system was not working and staff did not follow correct emergency procedures.
The four-storey shopping mall was redeveloped several times and previously housed a sweet factory.
Seven people have been arrested in the aftermath of the blaze, investigators said.
The ailing Tuleyev had long been expected to leave the post.
The Kemerovo region of around 2.7 million people has traditionally been considered one of Russia’s most troubled areas and some have feared that Tuleyev’s departure could spark a leadership crisis there.
Tuleyev, who first became governor in the era of president Boris Yeltsin in 1997, is one of Russia’s longest-serving top officials.
He was credited with helping pacify the region which was beset by miners’ strikes in the turbulent 1990s but had come to symbolise the worst excesses of authoritarianism in his later years, critics say.