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Kemerovo Fire Victims Charge Emergency Crews With ‘Inaction’


President Vladimir Putin at a makeshift memorial to those who died in Kemerovo.

Relatives of victims of the deadly Kemerovo shopping-center fire in Russia’s Siberia region have filed official complaints with prosecutors alleging that “inaction” by fire crews and others contributed to the blaze’s high death toll.

"In their view, due to the inaction of firefighters and police, people were killed -- they lacked the necessary equipment and skills," the Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman for regional prosecutors as saying on March 29.

The spokesman added that several people submitted complaints "against emergency services and law enforcement officers."

A local activist, Maksim Uchvatov, told AFP that “the prosecutors received these complaints and are working on them. Now they will question relatives of the dead and establish the timeline of events."

Uchvatov said he had been told Investigators were looking into the firefighting equipment used at the site and the timing of events through the use of mobile-phone records and other methods.

March 29 marked the second day of funerals for victims of the devastating fire that broke out at the Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) shopping center on the evening of March 25.

Flames spread across more than 1,500 square meters in the building, which included an entertainment complex, a cinema, a zoo, and several restaurants.

Officials put the death toll at 64 people, including at least 41 children, and said 25 of the 76 injured were hospitalized.

Russian investigators said initial investigations indicated that blocked fire exits, a shut-down alarm system, and "glaring violations" of safety rules exacerbated the human toll of the fire.

In the center of Kemerovo, angry demonstrators protested amid complaints of official corruption, holding signs with slogans such as "Corruption kills!" and "Tell the truth!" They demanded a full probe into the fire and called for the ouster of the regional governor.

President Vladimir Putin declared a nationwide day of mourning for March 28, and thousands of people have brought flowers and stuffed toys to makeshift memorials across the country, while flags flew at half-staff.

Putin visited the site, some 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow, on March 27 and laid flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the mall.

"Have no doubt: All those who are guilty will be punished," he told the crowd.

A court in Kemerovo ordered the owner of the shopping mall, Nadezhda Suddenok, jailed for a two-month pretrial period that can be extended as the investigation into the fire proceeds.

Putin's 18 years in power as president or prime minister have been marked by deadly disasters that are frequently blamed on corruption and carelessness.

Critics say that while Putin has taken numerous steps to strengthen the Kremlin's grip on Russia, he has been unable to establish the kind of control that could curb the graft and negligence that can lead to accidents or increase their human toll.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Interfax
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