Home / NEWS / Vladimir Putin faces rare public protests as he blames ‘criminal negligence’ for deadly mall fire

Vladimir Putin faces rare public protests as he blames ‘criminal negligence’ for deadly mall fire

Vladimir Putin has blamed “criminal negligence” for the high death toll in a fire that killed at least 64 people – including 41 children – as angry relatives of the dead held a protest outside the charred remains of a mall in Siberia.

The Russian President on Tuesday visited the Winter Cherry shopping centre in the city of Kemerovo on Tuesday, two days after one of the most deadly blazes in Russia over the past century.

In a meeting with ministers, Mr Putin hit out at “slovenliness” after investigators said fire exits had been illegally blocked and the fire alarm system had not functioned properly.

Forty-one children were among a total of 64 people killed in the fire, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, according to a list of victims made available to relatives.

There has been rising anger among many Russians in the wake of the fire. In Kemerovo, thousands of people gathered in the centre of the city at an impromptu rally on Tuesday that began in the morning but swelled through the day as more and more people turned up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to locals and relatives of the victims

Alexei Druzhinin

The anger has been fuelled by revelations about widespread breaches of safety regulations, including locked fire exits and a faulty fire alarm system, and there have been calls for officials, who many deem responsible for allowing the tragedy, to step down.

Those at the rally on Tuesday carried photographs, in black frames, of some of the children who died in the blaze. Others carried placards reading “How many really died?”, “Who’s really guilty” and “How much do your closed eyes cost?”.

Many of those present said that they believed the number of true victims was much higher than the official figure given, although no evidence has yet emerged to support this theory. “How many victims were there really?” read one sign.

Relatives held up pictures of children who had perished in the fire

 TASS/Barcroft Images

Some local officials, including Ilya Serdyuk, the mayor of Kemerovo, and Sergei Tsiviliev, the deputy governor of the region, appeared in front of the crowd, but faced angry questioning by those present, including relatives of the victims.

Shouts of “Resign,” “The truth!” and “Shame!” were chanted by the crowd as the words of the officials were largely drowned out in the noise. There was even extremely rare public criticism of Putin, who arrived in Kemerovo in the morning. At one moment, the crowd began chanting for Putin’s resignation and a placard on display called for him to step down.

Later in the afternoon, six busloads of riot police arrived on the square in a bid to contain the growing crowd and police officers in balaclavas blocked the entrance to the local administration, apparently fearing the crowd could storm the building.

An aerial view shows the roof of the shopping centre had collpased

Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations/AP

Mr Putin, re-elected last weekend as he denied Russia was behind the Salisbury spy poisoning, arrived at the blaze scene on Tuesday and laid flowers at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the fire.

“What’s happening here? This isn’t war, it’s not a spontaneous methane outburst,” Mr Putin said in a meeting with ministers in Kemerovo. “People came to relax, children. We’re talking about demography and losing so many people.

“Why? Because of some criminal negligence, because of slovenliness. How could this ever happen?”

The fire swept through the upper floors of the shopping centre, where a cinema complex and children’s play area were located, on Sunday afternoon.

As well as grief, the fire has stirred public anger about apparent failures in fire safety standards at the complex in Kemerovo, a coal-producing region.

The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles major crimes, said the shopping centre’s fire alarm system had been out of order since March 19 and the public address system to warn people to evacuate the building had not been turned on.

Thousands turned out for the impromptu protests

Sergei Gavrilenko/ AP

The committee said earlier it was trying to bring in the shopping centre’s owner for questioning.

“Serious violations (of the law) took place when the mall was being built and when it was functioning. The fire exits were blocked,” Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the committee, said in a statement on Monday.

Four people have already been detained, including two employees of the firm that services the fire alarm system.

Emergency services said they had extinguished the fire, but later said it had re-ignited in places and that rescuers were struggling to recover bodies because the building’s top floor had collapsed.

Vladimir Putin visits victims of the shopping centre blaze at a hospital in Kemerovo

Alexei Druzhinin /TASS/Getty

It was unclear if any people were still unaccounted for.

Health minister Veronika Skvortsova said from the scene that 13 people were in hospital, including an 11-year-old boy in a serious condition.

Russian media said the boy had leapt from a window and that both his parents had been killed.

Many of the victims will only be identifiable by DNA testing, officials said.

Mobile phone messages sent from one of those on the list of victims, 13-year-old Maria Moroz, and published by Russian media, said: “We are burning. I love you all. This is perhaps farewell.”

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/27/vladimir-putin-blames-criminal-negligence-russian-fire-left/

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