Thousands Protest Against Romanian Premier After 32 Die in Fire

ROMANIA-ACCIDENT-FIRE-PROTEST

Romanians protest gather following a nightclub fire that killed more than 30 people.

Photographer: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images
  • Demonstrators demand dismissal of several state officials
  • Protests against government also held in other main cities

Thousands of Romanians gathered at an unannounced protest in the center of Bucharest on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta after 32 people died in a nightclub fire last week.

Demonstrators also requested the ouster of Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea as well as the dismissal of Bucharest district mayor Cristian Popescu Piedone. DIGI24 TV reported that more than 15,000 people were at the rally, some carrying banners saying “corruption kills” and asking the government and city officials to take responsibility for the deadly incident. While the channel didn’t say where it got the attendance estimate, it reported that similar protests were also held in other main Romanian cities.

“Even though the government isn’t directly guilty for the club tragedy, people probably think it’s responsible for perpetuating corruption that allowed such an incident to happen,” Andrei Taranu, the deputy dean of the Political Science University in Bucharest, said in an interview for Digi24. 

Ponta has faced growing pressure to resign after becoming Romania’s first sitting premier to face criminal trial on charges including money laundering that date back to his time as a lawyer. While President Klaus Iohannis has repeatedly called on Ponta to step down, the ruling party has backed him to see out his term before standing aside at elections next year.

Safety Standards

Victor Ponta, Romania's prime minister.
Victor Ponta, Romania's prime minister.
Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Ponta asked on Saturday for the authorities to verify that all clubs in the country comply with safety standards, after President Iohannis said the establishment in question didn’t respect the rules or have clearance from firefighters to hold the event. Prosecutors also started an investigation to determine what caused the fire.

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest country measured by per-capita economic output, is tied with Bulgaria, Greece and Italy among the lowest-ranking members of the bloc on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

“I’m very unhappy with everything that is going on in the country where only
corruption gets things done,” Bianca Craciun, a 20-year-old student, said in a interview during the Bucharest protest. “One has to give bribes everywhere and that has to change.”

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