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Latvian prime minister resigns in wake of tragedy

By Gary Peach
Associated Press

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RIGA, Latvia: Latvia’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned on Wednesday, saying he can no longer lead the country after a supermarket roof collapse killed 54 people and sparked public outrage.

Choking back tears, Dombrovskis told journalists that the country needed a change in leadership.

“Considering the … tragedy and all the related circumstances, the country needs a government that has majority support in Parliament and can solve the situation that has arisen,” Dombrovskis said.

Dombrovskis, Latvia’s longest-serving prime minister, has been credited with steering the Baltic country from the brink of economic disaster since taking power in 2009.

But his tough cuts have stung, and critics have suggested the abolition of a state construction authority by his budget-slashing government weakened oversight that might have caught potential building flaws in the supermarket.

In recent weeks, he has also run into difficulties with his ruling coalition, with several nationalist lawmakers demanding changes to how the country issues residence permits in exchange for support for next year’s budget.

Though Dombrovskis survived the standoff, he apparently felt the tragedy at the Maxima supermarket last week left his leadership too damaged to continue.

The announcement triggers the fall of the entire center-right government. But it is not expected to cause a political crisis or disrupt the country’s economy, which over the past two years was the fastest growing in the European Union.

Analysts say that in all likelihood Dombrovskis’ party, Unity, will be part of the next coalition that will control the government until scheduled parliamentary elections next October.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the tragedy, which also wounded at least 40 people. Possible explanations for the disaster include a flawed design, substandard construction materials and corruption.

Many Latvians have expressed deep skepticism that the guilty parties will bear criminal liability and have gone so far as to demand that foreign engineers be invited to help the investigation.


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