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People visit a makeshift memorial to the victims of the shopping mall fire in Kemerovo, Russia People visit a makeshift memorial to the victims of the shopping mall fire in Kemerovo, Russia  (AFP or licensors)

Governor Of Russia's Fire-Stricken Region Resigns

The governor of Russia's Siberian region of Kemerovo has resigned amid heavy criticism over a fire at a shopping center that killed more than 60 people, most of them children.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Sitting behind a table, the long-time governor of Russia's Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleev, briefly bowed his head in a video message announcing his resignation following a devastating fire.

He recalled last month's blaze at the Winter Cherry shopping center that killed dozens of people, mainly children. Tuleev said that stepping aside from governing Kemerovo was "the right, conscious and only true decision" following the disaster.

Tuleev - whose niece has reportedly died in the fire - had been governor of the coal-mining region since 1997. A former Communist, the 73-year-old was a well-known figure in the area for three decades and stood in Russian presidential elections in 1991, 1996 and 2000.

His decision to resign over the fire disaster came just days after he accused protesters of “capitalizing on people’s grief.” The official death toll stood at 64, but protesters believe the number is higher.

They also said Russian authorities exaggerated the number of the rescue workers searching for people trapped inside the building. Locals are accusing officials of corruption in exchange for allowing lax safety standards.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin called it "criminal negligence" amid reports that officials closed exits and fire alarms didn't work in the shopping center. 

Other tensions Russia is facing

The political aftermath of the tragedy came while Russia also dealt with the worst tensions with the West since the Cold War following a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. On Sunday dozens of Russian diplomats and their families expelled from the United States arrived in Moscow along with their families.

At least one plane carrying them arrived at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, and buses were seen picking up passengers. By expelling 60 Russian diplomats, the US joined a score of Britain's allies in responding to the poisoning of former double agent 

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. Both remain in hospital. In response, Russia has also announced the expulsion of dozens of Western diplomats.

Russia accuses Britain and the United States of seeking to stop the country hosting this summer's World Cup soccer championships.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
01 April 2018, 16:56