Latvian PM resigns in wake of deadly supermarket roof collapse

Last week's incident, which left 54 people dead, was the worst disaster since Latvia declared its independence in 1991

Latvia's Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned Wednesday, saying he was "taking political responsibility" for the deadly supermarket roof collapse that killed 54 people last week.
Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images; Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned on Wednesday, taking political responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket roof that killed 54 people last week and plunged the country into turmoil weeks ahead of its entry into the euro zone. 

"I announce I am resigning from the post of prime minister, taking political responsibility for ... the tragedy," Dombrovskis told journalists, according to local news agency BNS. 

Possible explanations for the disaster include a flawed design, substandard construction materials and corruption. Dombrovskis did not give details on his reasons for quitting, but his economy minister, Daniels Pavluts, earlier this week partly blamed the collapse on a lack of government oversight of construction projects. 

The departure of the Latvia's longest-serving premier — Dombrovskis took office in 2009 — brought down its center-right government, a measure of the scale of the political uproar triggered by the tragedy in Riga. 

Last week's collapse of the Maxima supermarket also injured 40 people. It was the worst disaster since Latvia declared its independence from Soviet Union in 1991, and has outraged Latvians. President Andris Berzins called the disaster "murder." 

Dombrovskis had said the supermarket disaster shattered Latvia, a former Soviet republic which joined the European Union nearly a decade ago.

No euro zone impact

The cause of the collapse remains unknown, though police have opened a criminal investigation focusing on the construction of the building. Local media said workers had been building a roof garden on the supermarket, a single-story building about a 30-minute drive from the center of Riga, Latvia's capital.  

Berzins said in a statement he now planned to appoint a new government this year. Political analysts said that would stave off the chance of a snap vote earlier than the national elections that were already scheduled for next year.

Latvia's government also abolished a national building inspectorate as part of austerity measures that helped pave Latvia's way into the single currency. 

Dombrovskis led the country through sweeping spending cuts and out of its worst economic downturn since independence. The country was widely praised for its recovery and is due to adopt the euro as its currency and join the euro zone on Jan. 1. 

The Baltic state has the highest economic growth rate in the EU after a deep recession during the 2008 financial crisis, when it kept its currency pegged to the euro. Latvia pursued a policy of spending cuts coupled with redundancies and wage cuts that wiped out a fifth of its GDP. Its public debt is now around 41 percent of GDP, far below the European Union average.

Analysts said they did not expect Dombrovskis' exit would disrupt Latvia's entry into the euro, though polls suggest most voters oppose joining the single currency. "I don't think there is any impact on the euro zone (entry). The decisions have been made," said Martins Kazaks, Swedbank chief economist in Latvia.

Wire services 

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