Romanian Prime Minister Resigns Over Fatal Nightclub Fire

Prime minister Victor Ponta and mayor of district that housed Colectiv venue both resign as 20,000 protestors swarm Romanian capital

Several key members of the Romanian government, including the prime minister, have stepped down in the aftermath of a fatal Bucharest nightclub fire Credit: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: One week after the tragic Bucharest nightclub fire, the death toll has climbed to 39, the Associated Press reports.

Several key members of the Romanian government have stepped down in the aftermath of the Bucharest nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 32 people and injured over 180. Prime minister Victor Ponta and Cristian Popescu Piedone, mayor of the district where the Colectiv nightclub was located, both resigned Wednesday amidst protests in the Romanian capital about the corrupt government that allowed these unsafe venues to remain open.

"I'm handing in my mandate. I'm resigning – and implicitly my government too," Ponta said of his Social Democratic party after 20,000 protestors swarmed the capital. "I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society. I hope handing in my and my government’s mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters." The protests are also seeking the resignation of Romanian interior minister Gabriel Oprea, The Guardian reports.

On Monday, three Colectiv club owners – Costin Mincu, Alin George Anastasescu and Paul Gancea – were arrested and charged with suspicion of manslaughter after stage pyrotechnics ignited a piece of flammable foam insulation during a Goodbye to Gravity concert at the venue. Prosecutors claim that the nightclub was over capacity, defied safety measures like non-flammable foam paneling and lacked available exits. When the fire did start Saturday, the crowd of 400 was forced to bottleneck through only one door, causing a stampede.

Two members of Goodbye to Gravity, guitarists Vlad Telea and Mihai Alexandru, were killed in the fire, while singer Andrei Galut and bassist Alex Pascu were hospitalized with serious injuries. The death toll grew from 31 to 32 Tuesday as roughly 90 attendees remain hospitalized in serious condition with smoke- and stampede-related injuries.

The nightclub fire is viewed as the breaking point – but not the sole reason – for Ponta's resignation: The politician is facing a litany of corruption charges stemming from both before and after he took the prime minister's office. Those charges include tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest, forging expense claims and more. Ponta was indicted in July, when his assets were seized; prosecutors allege the prime minister – Ponta was elected to that office in 2012 – used the money to buy two luxury apartments and an SUV.

The fire sparked a social media movement in Romania – #CorruptionKills – which culminated in the Bucharest protests. "I understand what is being asked and what is expected, and they are right, someone has to take political responsibility," Romanian president Klaus Iohannis – a political rival of Ponta's having defeated the now-former prime minister in a presidential race in 2014 – wrote on his Facebook (via The Guardian). "The next step is for politicians, who cannot ignore this sentiment of revolt."