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Putin blames Russia mall fire on ‘criminal negligence’

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with local residents and relatives of people missing in a fire at a shopping center in Kemerovo on March 27, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday has blamed the mall fire that killed at least 64 people in the Siberian city of Kemerovo on “criminal negligence” as he visited the site two days after the tragedy.

At least 64 people, many of them children, died when a blaze raged through the busy shopping centre in the industrial city on Sunday, one of the deadliest fires recorded in Russia over the past century.

“There are names of 41 children in the list of those who died,” RIA Novosti quoted a source in the regional emergencies services as saying.

Putin flew to Kemerovo Tuesday as questions swirled about the Kremlin’s handling of the country’s latest man-made disaster.

“What is happening here? These are not armed hostilities. This is not an unexpected release of methane. People, children came to relax,” Putin told officials in Kemerovo after laying flowers at a makeshift memorial of flowers, stuffed children's toys and balloons near the gutted mall’s facade.

“We are talking about demographics but are losing so many people. Because of what? Because of some criminal negligence, slovenliness,” Putin said in comments released by the Kremlin.

“The first feelings when they speak about the number of victims and the number of dead children... one feels like wailing -- not crying,” Putin said in televised remarks.

Putin demanded a legal assessment of the actions of every executive officer involved in the tragedy. “A legal assessment of the actions of every executive officer must be provided. Everything has to be immediately scrutinized and a legal assessment has to be given. You cannot hide behind the vacation time. It is impossible to get any certificate without paying money. But if money is paid, everything will be signed. That is the trouble. And everybody spits on people’s safety. That is the reason,” he said.

The Kemerovo region declared three days of mourning beginning Tuesday.

People gather to pay tribute to the victims of a fire at a shopping center in Kemerovo on March 27, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

But many critics wondered why the Kremlin did not call a nationwide day of mourning and said national television channels did not pull entertainment programs from their schedule fast enough.

Some Muscovites are planning a vigil in the city center Tuesday evening and several Russian cities declared a period of mourning in solidarity with Kemerovo.

Investigators and witnesses said many people -- including children -- were burned alive because emergency exits were locked, notably at a multiplex cinema where children were watching cartoons.

The Investigative Committee said a criminal probe has been opened and that five people have been arrested including an official of the mall’s security firm who is suspected of deactivating the public address system when the fire broke out.

(Source: AFP)

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