RUSSIA: Governor quits over deadly mall fire

The governor of the Siberian region where a devastating fire killed 64 people in a shopping centre has resigned, saying it was "morally impossible" to continue in his job after the tragedy. People rallied in the hundreds to demand justice for the victims and their family, calling for the resignations of regional authorities and the prosecution of those found responsible.

Aman Tuleyev, 73, said in a video posted on the regional administration's website that stepping down was the only course of action possible.

The fire, which swept through a cinema complex and a children's play area in the Winter Cherry mall in the city of Kemerovo last Sunday, was one of the deadliest since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Although governors in Russian Federation are elected by their constituents, the Kremlin has the ability to fire them and appoint temporary replacements.

"With such a heavy burden, it's impossible to work as the governor", said Tuleyev, who governed the region for more than two decades.

Speaking about his resignation, Tuleyev said that he believes it is the only right decision.

Tuleyev avoided the demonstrators outside a regional administrative building last week.

Sergei Tsivilyov, who has been Tuleyev's deputy since March, has been appointed acting governor, the Kremlin said.

Local media reported that the cinema employees would lock doors from the outside to prevent people without a ticket from entering in.

Reports about Tuleyev's looming resignation had been circulating in the media nearly since right after the fire. So Tuleyev's resignation on Sunday came as something of a surprise.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted Tuleyev's resignation and signed a decree providing for the early termination of his authority, the Kremlin press service said in a statement. He was the governor of Kemerovo region for 20 years.

"I am taking over the region at a very hard moment", Tsivilev was quoted by Interfax as saying. "We have to live to remember those, whom we have lost", Tuleyev said.

Tsivilev's handling of the Winter Cherry mall fire has also been criticized within Russian Federation. Later, he knelt on one knee before the crowd and asked for their forgiveness.

  • Jon Douglas