In Brief

Romanian PM Victor Ponta quits after mass protest over fire

Widespread protests in the capital Bucharest are taking place following a fatal nightclub fire

Romania's prime minister, Victor Ponta, resigned today in a surprise move after tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bucharest.

The protests were sparked by a nightclub fire that broke out on Friday night, killing 32 people and injuring 185.

More than 25,000 people came onto the streets, calling for the government to take responsibility for the disaster.

What's the fire got to do with government?

"Anger at the government has been growing," says The Guardian, "with many perceiving it as being corrupt, and last week's fire delivered the final blow". The club where the fire took place was operating without proper health and safety authorisations, according to Romanian authorities.

But protesters blame the authorities for lax safety enforcement and claim other nightclubs operate across the city in the same way. One demonstrator said the protest was "against the system which enabled a tragedy of this kind to happen". President Klaus Iohannis has also called for root-and-branch reform. "We should no longer tolerate government incompetence, institutional inefficiency, and we cannot let corruption spread to the point that it kills people," he said.

Why did the prime minister resign?

Ponta's resignation comes at the end of a turbulent three years in office, with regular protests calling for him to quit. His government has been accused of corruption and the fact that his party emerged from the old Communist regime has led many younger Romanians to regard it with suspicion.

On top of that, Ponta was indicted in September on charges of forgery, money laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion. He has denied all the charges, but today said: "I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society. I hope handing in my and my government's mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters."

His departure was followed by the resignation of one of Bucharest's local mayors, Cristian Popescu Piedone, in whose jurisdiction the club was located. Piedone admitted that he was morally responsible for the fire, but said he would leave it to "justice" to determine where the legal blame should fall.

 How has Romania reacted?

While Ponta's resignation is seen by many as a positive move, some say it is not enough. They are warning politicians not to relying on a cabinet reshuffle as a solution. Vlad Mixich at Romanian news site Hot News claims there is systemic corruption in the country's political structures while President Iohannis has said on his Facebook page that "someone has to take political responsibility" and that politicians "cannot ignore this sentiment of revolt".

The deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Catalin Predoiu, welcomed the resignations, saying that "this is a victory of the street" and a "lesson for all politicians". His party has called for early elections.

What happens now?

Another protest is due to take place tonight in Bucharest, with many echoing Predoiu's call for early elections. They are unlikely to get them, commentators say, as few MPs will willingly resign. Instead, they say, the most likely solution is that Ponta will stay in place until Iohannis designates an interim prime minister, after which a coalition government will take shape. The president will then be able to veto or approve a new prime minister.


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