Putin to punish people involved in mall fire

KEMEROVO/MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin flew to the scene of a shopping mall fire in Siberia that killed 64 people and promised angry residents on Tuesday that those responsible for what he called criminal negligence would be punished.

The fire, at the Winter Cherry mall in the city of Kemerovo, killed 41 children, according to the Interfax news agency, and the calamitous way it was handled has stirred anger and focused attention on corruption and lax fire safety standards.

Rallies in memory of the victims were held in several cities around Russia, and at least one, in Moscow, turned into an anti-government demonstration.

Mr Putin, comfortably re-elected only this month, laid flowers at a memorial to the victims in the coal-producing region, about 3600km east of Moscow, before chairing a meeting and declaring Wednesday a national day of mourning.

“What’s happening here? This isn’t war, it’s not an unexpected methane explosion at a coal mine. People came to relax, children. We’re talking about demography and losing so many people,” Mr Putin angrily told officials.

“Why? Because of some criminal negligence, because of slovenliness. How could this ever happen?” he added.

“The first emotion when you hear about the number of dead and dead children is not to cry but to wail. And when you listen to what has been said here, to be honest, other emotions arise.”

Investigators said fire exits had been illegally blocked, the public address system had not been switched on, the alarm system was broken, and children had been locked inside cinemas.

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