The governor of Russia’s Kemerovo region has stepped down in the wake of a shopping-center fire that left 64 people dead, including dozens of children.
The administration of the Siberian region said on April 1 that Governor Aman Tuleyev had tendered his resignation to Russian President Vladimir Putin “at his own request."
Tuleyev and his subordinates have faced fierce public criticism for what many see as a cold and tone-deaf response to the tragedy, including their characterizations of public outrage as the work of political opportunists.
In a video address posted on the regional administration's website, the governor said his resignation was "the only right choice."
"With such a heavy burden, it's impossible to work as the governor," Tuleyev said. "It's morally impossible."
The Kremlin said Putin accepted Tuleyev’s resignation and appointed Deputy Governor Sergei Tsivilyov as acting head.
Tuleyev, 73, had been at the helm of the coal-producing region since 1997.
The announcement of his resignation comes days after the devastating fire broke out at the Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) shopping center in the regional capital, also called Kemerovo, on the evening of March 25.
Officials put the death toll at 64 people, including at least 41 children, and said 25 of the 76 injured were hospitalized.
Relatives of victims have filed official complaints with prosecutors alleging that "inaction" by fire crews and others contributed to the blaze's high death toll.
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.
Seven people have been arrested in the case, including the head of the local building inspection agency and an executive with the firm that owns the shopping mall.
In the center of Kemerovo, angry demonstrators on March 27 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 Tuleyev’s ouster.
In a meeting with Putin about the deadly fire, the governor said there were only around 200 people at the demonstration when, in fact, thousands had shown up. Tuleyev also told Putin that "troublemakers" and "opposition forces" were attempting to stoke unrest for political gain.
During the rally, Tsivilyov suggested that a man who lost his sister, wife, and three children in the fire was engaging in self-promotion.
Putin declared a nationwide day of mourning for March 28. While visiting Kemerovo, some 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow, on March 27 the Russian president vowed that “all those who are guilty will be punished."
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.
As Russia continued to mourn the loss of life in the fire in Kemerovo, soccer-fan groups across the country agreed not to sing for the first half of their league games on March 31 as a mark of respect for the victims.
At Spartak Moscow, fans in the crowd of 28,500 displayed homemade posters and banners mourning the dead.
"Parents shouldn't have to bury their children," one read.
"It was difficult to play the first half," Spartak Moscow captain Denis Glushakov said after his team defeated Tosno, 2-1.
"The stands were completely quiet, and it was very unusual for our home turf," he added.
Meanwhile, opposition blogger Mikhail Svetov said that he was beaten and threatened at the Kemerovo airport upon his arrival from Moscow on April 1.
Svetov said his attackers were a group of some 15 people who "acted with full coordination with the airport staff." The blogger said he was forcibly placed in the next flight back to Moscow.
Svetov, who criticized Kemerovo authorities in the aftermath of the deadly fire, was scheduled to give a lecture in the city on April 1 on "Why You Should Not Trust The Government."