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Putin: Deadly Blaze Exposed Russian Corruption

Relatives mourn a victim of the deadly nightclub fire in the Russian city of Perm
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has declared a crusade on corrupt bureaucrats after the country's most deadly blaze claimed the lives of 135 people in a nightclub fire in the Russian city of Perm.

"All the vices of our bureaucracy were exposed by this tragedy. Its incompetence, corruption and links to businesses," Putin told a late-night cabinet meeting on December 10 after a visit on Tuesday to Perm, where he lambasted local officials.

The entire government of the region resigned after he left.

Russia is mired in corruption, with firms and individuals bribing their way through a plethora of technical, safety and health rules enforced by multiple state agencies. Once the bribes are collected the violations are often overlooked.

The number of jailed bureaucrats is growing but Russia is still ranked 146th out of 180 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

"We need legal changes strengthening criminal punishment for bureaucrats for violations in control and supervision area," Putin said. He said the changes would address negligence on the part of entrepreneurs as well, but did not elaborate.

Putin has a history of using disasters to achieve political goals. In 2004 when he was Russia's president, a hostage-taking raid by rebels from Chechnya on a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia in 2004 led to him tightening his grip over regions by abolishing governors' elections.

The fire in Perm was sparked last Friday when an indoor firework show ignited wicker coverings on the walls of a club, prompting a stampede as partygoers rushed towards a narrow door to escape clouds of toxic black smoke.

"There was only one exit in a club where hundreds of people gathered and all the windows were blocked. Although documents show windows were wide open," Putin said.

"They simply signed fake documents. Did they not know about it? Of course they knew. Where did the municipal authorities look? Why did they close their eyes?"