Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta announced the resignation of his government Wednesday in a surprise move that followed huge protests in the wake of a nightclub fire that killed at least 32 people.
“I'm handing in my mandate, I'm resigning, and implicitly my government too,” Ponta said in a statement. He said he would stay on until a new government is in place.
“I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society,” said Ponta. “I hope handing in my and my government's mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters.”
Some 20,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest on Tuesday evening in a spontaneous protest calling for the resignation of Ponta, Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea and a district mayor where the Colectiv nightclub was located.
They shouted “Shame on you!” and “Assassins!” and waved Romanian flags. Anger has been brewing for some time in Romania against the government, which many perceive as being corrupt, and Friday's fire added to the discontent.
The blaze broke out at about 11 p.m. on Oct. 30, with hundreds of people inside attending a rock concert.
The three owners of the club have been arrested and charged with negligent homicide and assault.
Liviu Dragnea, the head of the ruling leftist Social Democrat Party, said on Wednesday that someone needed “to assume responsibility for what has happened.”
“This a serious matter and we promise a quick resolution of the situation,” Dragnea told reporters in parliament.
“You probably noticed thousands of people last evening and what they demanded,” Dragnea added.
Ponta, the country's only sitting premier to stand trial for corruption, had been under pressure to resign from President Klaus Iohannis, who defeated him in last November's presidential election.
But prior to Wednesday’s announcement, he had repeatedly resisted calls to resign and vowed to serve out his term until the end of 2016, when the country is currently scheduled to hold its next parliamentary elections.
“I can carry any political battles but I can't fight with the people,” Ponta, who will probably remain in his post with his cabinet until the president nominates a replacement, told reporters.
President Iohannis will now name a prime minister to form a new government, which needs to be approved by parliament. If this fails twice, early elections will be called.
Deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Catalin Predoiu, hailed the resignations. “This is a victory of the street. It is a lesson for all politicians,” he said.
Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page late Tuesday: “I understand what is being asked and what is expected, and they are right, someone has to take political responsibility.” He added, “The next step is for politicians, who cannot ignore this sentiment of revolt.”
Witnesses said the fire broke out during a heavy-metal concert in the basement club when a spark ignited foam decor, sending panicked people stampeding for the single exit. In addition to those who died, some 130 remain hospitalized, dozens of them in serious or critical condition.
Al Jazeera and wire services