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Romanian PM Quits After Huge Protests Over Fatal Nightclub Fire

Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned on Wednesday, in a surprise move just hours after mass protests over corruption and last week's Bucharest nightclub fire that killed 32.

by Reuters and VICE News
Nov 4 2015, 11:10am

Photo by Robert Ghement/EPA

Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned on Wednesday, in a surprise move just hours after mass protests demanding cabinet resignations as the death toll from a Bucharest nightclub fire reached 32, his ruling leftist party said.

Ponta, the country's only sitting premier to stand trial for corruption, had been under pressure to resign from President Klaus Iohannis, who defeated him in last November's presidential election.

Thousands of people protested across Romania on Tuesday, demanding cabinet resignations as the death toll from a nightclub fire reached 32, with dozens more people in hospital critically hurt.

Angry about the way authorities grant permits and inspect public venues, protesters were still pouring into the streets late into the night, carrying banners saying "Corruption Kills" and chanting "Murderers!" The disaster last weekend was one of the country's worst in decades.

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In Bucharest, over 20,000 people marched to the government headquarters and the interior ministry, and protests spread out in the central Romanian cities of Brasov and Ploiesti. More rallies were being announced on Facebook across Romania in coming days.

The fire broke out on Friday night, when fireworks lit at a rock concert inside the Colectiv club set non-fireproofed insulation foam ablaze, triggering a stampede towards the single exit and trapping many of the roughly 400-strong audience inside.

In Bucharest, marchers shouted demands for Prime Minister Victor Ponta and deputy prime minister Gabriel Oprea to resign along with the mayor of the district where Colectiv is located.

"Wake up and do something," a woman shouted as the march blocked traffic on one of Bucharest's busiest boulevards. "We want justice."

This drone footage shows people gathered at Piata Regina Maria in Bucharest on Tuesday night for the "Corruption Kills" (Corup?ie Ucide) demonstration.

Ponta's departure may lead to a political realignment in Romania, where a coalition of three parties form a majority in parliament. President Iohannis, the former opposition leader, has said his aim was to bring his former Liberals to power.

"Victor Ponta is giving up his mandate. Someone needs to assume responsibility for what has happened. This a serious matter and we promise a quick resolution of the situation," the head of the ruling leftist Social Democrat Party Liviu Dragnea said told reporters in parliament today.

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"You probably noticed thousands of people last evening and what they demanded," Dragnea said.

Ponta had repeatedly ignored calls to resign and vowed to serve out his term until the end of 2016, when the country is currently scheduled to hold its next parliamentary elections.

"I can carry any political battles but I can't fight with the people," Ponta, who will probably remain in his post with his cabinet until the president nominates a replacement, told reporters. 

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