Ke­merovo gov­er­nor steps down over deadly mall blaze

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

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 cen­ter 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-yearold 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 trav­eled to the scene of the tragedy.

Tuleyev apol­o­gized to the pres­i­dent over the rally — where pro­test­ers also called for Putin’s res­ig­na­tion — call­ing its or­ga­niz­ers 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-story shop­ping mall was re­de­vel­oped sev­eral times and pre­vi­ously housed a sweets 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 sym­bol­ize the worst ex­cesses of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in his later years, crit­ics say.

Aman Tuleyev (Files/Reuters)

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