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Monday 20 November 2017

Latvian PM resigns over disaster

Flowers and candles in front of the Latvian supermarket where 54 people died (AP)
Flowers and candles in front of the Latvian supermarket where 54 people died (AP)

Latvia's prime minister has resigned following the supermarket collapse that killed 54 people and provoked outrage across the country.

Valdis Dombrovskis' unexpected announcement, which automatically triggers the fall of the entire government, followed his meeting with President Andris Berzins.

"Considering the ... tragedy and all the related circumstances, the country needs a government that has a majority support in parliament and can solve the situation that has arisen in the country," he said.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the cause of last week's tragedy. Possible explanations for the disaster include a flawed design, substandard construction materials, and corruption.

Some people have suggested that the abolition of a construction watchdog by Mr Dombrovskis' budget-slashing government weakened oversight.

Many Latvians are sceptical that the guilty parties will face criminal charges and have demanded foreign engineers be invited to help the investigation.

Mr Dombrovskis, the country's longest-serving prime minister, denied that he was pressured by the president and said that he had been mulling the move since last week's collapse of the Maxima supermarket, the worst disaster since Latvia declared its independence from Soviet Union in 1991.

He said the country needed a new, broad-based coalition that would enjoy the trust of Latvia's 100-seat parliament.

President Berzins will appoint a new candidate based on who could form a coalition that will receive the necessary majority approval by parliament.

Mr Dombrovskis came to power in 2009 as Latvia's economy was sinking into a deep recession and was charged with leading harsh budget cuts and tax increases while at the same time implementing tough structural reforms demanded by international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund.

He was re-appointed twice as prime minister since then, and is widely credited with preventing the nation from going bankrupt.

-AP

Press Association

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