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Perm Administration Quits Over Fire

The Perm regional administration resigned en masse Wednesday after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered withering criticism in connection with a nightclub fire that killed at least 125 people.

Perm Governor Oleg Chirkunov will form a new administration after investigators wrap up their inquiry into Saturday's fire started by a pyrotechnics show at the Khromaya Loshad (Lame Horse) nightclub in downtown Perm, according to a statement on the region's web site, Perm.ru.

Perm's mayor also submitted his resignation to the city's legislature.

The highly unusual wave of resignations come a day after Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev demanded that officials be held responsible for the fire. No other regional administration has resigned in recent memory, and the last regional shakeup came in October, when Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov fired his administration upon returning to work following an assassination attempt.

"This is a logical step to ease tensions inside the region and in relations with the federal authorities," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Putin harshly criticized Perm officials during a visit to the site of the tragedy Tuesday. “I simply don’t understand how fireworks can be used indoors when it’s written clearly and in Russian: ‘Do not use indoors,'” Putin said in televised remarks.

The fire started when sparks from the pyrotechnics show ignited artificial branches on the ceiling of the nightclub, causing 300 people celebrating the club’s eighth anniversary to stampede toward the single exit.

 

Pending the outcome of the fire investigation, regional administration officials will continue in their positions in an "acting" capacity with the exception of three department heads, whom Chirkunov has suspended "to secure an unbiased investigation" into the fire, the administration statement said.

The three officials are the head of the administration's department of enterprise development and trade, Marat Bimatov; the head of the construction and infrastructure development department, Alexander Kudryavtsev; and the head of the public security department, Igor Orlov.

Chirkunov also suspended the head of the regional branch of the state construction inspectorate, Olga Antipova.

He told reporters that he would ask Medvedev after the investigation ended whether he should resign and would quit if asked, Interfax reported.

Perm Mayor Arkady Kats submitted his resignation to Perm lawmakers, saying in a statement that "the tragedy of this scale … has thrown me into the moral dilemma of whether I can continue to act as the head of the city's administration." The lawmakers will consider the mayor's resignation Friday.

The mayor, meanwhile, suspended the head of the city's architecture and planning department, Oleg Goryunov, Interfax reported.

The founder of the nightclub, Alexander Titlyanov, died of injuries sustained in the fire in a Moscow hospital, RIA-Novosti reported. Titlyanov, who prosecutors said founded the nightclub and owned an 85 percent stake in it, had been a suspect in a criminal case opened into the blaze.

Six other people also died of their injuries Wednesday, raising the death toll to 125, and 104 remained hospitalized.

The Investigative Committee said 48 children lost one parent in the fire, while 15 lost both parents.

Perm authorities have received about 70 calls from Perm, Moscow and other cities offering money to grieving families or seeking to adopt children orphaned by the fire, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, a 12-year-old boy from the far eastern region of Kamchatka who was badly injured by fireworks at a New Year's show organized by local authorities in 2008, has appealed to Medvedev in an open letter to find and prosecute the officials responsible for his injuries.

"Who will be building the new Russia if we, the younger generation, are killed by irresponsibility, impunity and corruption?" the boy, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky resident Rostislav Tsirkovny, said in the letter published on a local news web site, Vestipk.ru.

The Kremlin press service did not immediately reply to an e-mailed request for comment on the appeal. But Medvedev on Tuesday ordered Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to find and prosecute officials on all levels of government who played a role in the nightclub fire through negligence or otherwise.

In an interview published in Izvestia on Wednesday, Perm's governor blamed illegal reconstruction of the building that housed the nightclub for the high number of victims of the fire, saying several large windows that could have served as emergency exits were walled up in the reconstruction. Writing in his LiveJournal blog Wednesday, he urged Perm residents to send him pictures of the building before the reconstruction to help his inquiry into the matter.  

He also denied reports that the nightclub had a capacity for only 50 people, saying it could seat several hundred.

Chaika has ordered prosecutors in all of Russia's regions to examine the activities of local fire inspectors for possible violations of the law, his office said in a statement.

Moscow investigators have opened a criminal case against a fire inspector on charges of accepting a $1,400 bribe from a private company in exchange for allowing it to violate fire safety regulations on its premises, the Investigative Committee said.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov has banned the lighting of fireworks at all indoor shows, a City Hall source told Interfax.

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