Romania nightclub fire: Prime Minister resigns

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Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta announced his resignation on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 following large protests in the wake of a nightclub fire in Bucharest that killed 32 people and injured 179 others.

Ponta declared on national television: “I’m handing in my mandate, I’m resigning, and implicitly my government too.”

“I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society,” he said. “I hope handing in my and my government’s mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters,” he added.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is to name a prime minister to form a new government with the approval of the parliament. If this fails, a snap election will be called. Romania is due to hold parliamentary elections in December 2016.

On Tuesday night more than 25,000 protesters took to the streets calling for PM Ponta to step down because of government corruption and poor safety supervision.

A woman embraces a child

Candle-lit vigils were held in Bucharest the day after the fire [Andreea Alexandrou/Mediafax Foto]

In September, Ponta became the first sitting Romanian prime minister to go on trial over allegations of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Protestors also called for the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea. Even more people are expected to join the protests in the next few days.

Cristian Popescu Piedone, the mayor of the district in Bucharest where the nightclub is located also resigned following Tuesday night’s protest saying he is morally guilty for the deadliest fire in Romania’s history.

Mihai Schiau, a journalist for the Romanian newspaper Gândul, told Artefact that the Romanian public hold Piedone, who has been serving as the mayor of Bucharest’s Sector 4 since 2008, partially responsible for the fire: “Piedone came with papers and said that from his point of view, the club had authorisation, and there was no need of ISU notification (Inspectorate for Emergency Situations) on preventing and extinguishing fires.”

“The blame is shared between club owners – who have allowed over 300 people although they had permission only for a maximum of 80 and have also chosen cheap inflammable materials for soundproofing the club – and organisers of the concert that evening who organized the pyrotechnic show inside without taking safety measures,” he added.

The public and protestors are sceptical about the accuracy of the official figures of the size of the protest. Student Mihnea Blag, 21, a survivor of the fire, explained: “There were around 35,000-40,000 protesting tonight but the media did not want to admit it.”

Protest in Victory Square, Bucharest

Protestors met in Victory Square, Bucharest [Dan Mihai Balanescu via Facebook]

He went on to discuss the incident that happened on Friday night: “I’m lucky to be alive. I was near the door that we managed to break and get out. After I made two steps out of the building, it exploded. What I saw there, it was hell on earth.”

The fire at the Colectiv nightclub, the worst such incident in Romania in the last 20 years, happened on Friday, October 30, during a free concert performed by heavy metal band Goodbye to Gravity to celebrate the release of their new album, Mantras of War.

Romania’s government declared a three-day period of national mourning beginning the day after, just hours after the tragedy.

Early reports which are still under investigation suggest that the blaze was allegedly caused by the band’s pyrotechnics and the Colectiv Club’s inadequate exits which caused a stampede.

The number of people allowed in was far beyond the permissible limit of the premises and the conduct of fireworks in the interior design conditions were unfit for such activities, according a statement from PICCJ, the Public Ministry, Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

Hundreds of Romanian citizens flocked to hospitals and blood donation centres, queueing up to give blood to the many club casualties in need of transfusions.

Thousands more from inside and outside the country took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to mourn the loss and call for much-needed blood donations.

Emergency response chief Raed Arafat declared recently that the number of deaths could possibly double.  He also told the BBC: “The only information we have is that fireworks were used in the club and after that the tragedy happened. Of course, this is under investigation.”

Image: Instagram

Image: Instagram

There were over 300 people inside the club at the rock concert. Some witnesses claimed that a spark on the stage ignited a part of the polystyrene decor while a pillar and the club’s ceiling caught fire causing stampede and chaos.

Among the 32 people killed were two of the band members, guitarists Vlad Ţelea and Mihai Alexandru, while frontman Andrei Galut was left in critical condition.

The venue had two small exit doors, only one of which was open initially, terrified concert-goers had to break the second door down in order to escape.

The club’s main shareholder is co-founder Alin George Anastasescu, who also had two other associates: Costin Mincu and Paul Cătălin Gancea.

All three were arrested on November 2 for negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm and negligent destruction. One of them declared through his lawyer: “A part of me died at the moment of the incident.”

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis announced that he was deeply upset by the tragic events that happened Friday night in downtown Bucharest.

In a video message posted on Sunday on his Facebook page, President Klaus Iohannis called for Romanians to be united and to ask the authorities to take responsibility so tragedies like Colectiv don’t happen again.

“At the moment we have a duty to learn a lesson, unfortunately paid with so many lives and so much suffering. We can’t tolerate incompetence of authorities anymore, the ineffectiveness of institutions, we cannot let corruption spread and kill people.”

The president also honoured two heroes of Friday night’s blaze who perished in the fire trying to save other people.

Blogger and photographer Claudiu Petre, 36, went back into the club twice, saving a woman and then going back into try and save other people but succumbing to his injuries.

Adrian Rugina,38, drummer of the Bucium band, also helped victims of the stampede before being overwhelmed by thick smoke. He was reportedly among the first ones to get out of Colectiv after the outbreak of the fire, but returned  to save others.

According to national television Antena 1, Adrian died after saving five people.

The club opened in May 2013 in a converted former factory called Pionierul, at Tăbăcarilor Street in Bucharest, just one kilometre away from the Palace of Parliament.

Alex Teodorescu, 22, a survivor of the event on Friday expressed his feelings on his blog: “Why did the fans of Goodbye to Gravity die tonight? Probably because they left the house to see a live concert of a band and not spend Friday night watching cheesy television broadcasts which are being served on a daily basis.

“People who died today, died because they are the ones who wanted to see something other than what they are being served on a plate. They did not want to be a vegetable controlled by a PlayStation, they did not want to be viewers of some TV shows full of pretty girls. On Friday, the deceased died because they wanted to socialize live without Facebook, Skype and other free interactive networks,” Teodorescu said.

“People went Friday to Colectiv to consume art. Yes, that is the true level of art in Romania. It’s full of artists who perform in halls with single-door access, full of artists rejected by radio and television which can only make a living from live concerts. […] This is the culture of our country. Underground and in ruins artistic acts unfold.”

British Ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell

British Ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell [PROTV]

Meanwhile, a sea of candles burn ceaselessly at the basement club Colectiv while thousands of people pray for the injured and those who have lost their lives on the dance floor.

Along with the ambassadors of the United States and France, the British Ambassador to Romania was present at the commemoration to lay flowers; Paul Brummell told national TV station PROTV: “Britain and the British people are with you in this very difficult moment for Romania.”



Featured image by Mihai Dascalescu via Mediafax Foto

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