Mall fire in Siberia kills at least 64

A fire in a shopping mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo has claimed at least 64 lives, with dozens still missing.  Forty-one of those dead are children.

Protests erupted in Kemerovo as information came out that the fire alarm was switched off and exits were blocked.


Some 300 people rallied outside the local government headquarters on Tuesday, demanding that officials be sacked over the fire safety shortcomings.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but Russia's Investigative Committee has spoken of "serious violations" at the Winter Cherry mall.

Wednesday will be a day of mourning throughout Russia, Mr Putin has decreed.

President Putin also expressed indignation over the disaster – though he did not speak to the crowd.

"What is happening here?" he said, after laying a wreath.  "This is no battle or an unexpected methane outburst in a mine."

"People, children came to relax.  We are talking about demography and are losing so many people because of what?  Because of criminal negligence, sloppiness."

Putin is being kind when he refers to "sloppiness":

Sunday's blaze started on an upper floor of the complex at about 17:00 local time (10:00 GMT).

The mall's shops, cinema and bowling alley were packed at the time as it was the beginning of the school holiday.

Video on social media showed people jumping from windows to escape.

The Investigative Committee says a fire safety technician at the complex "switched off the alarm system" after being alerted about the fire.

It said a criminal investigation had begun.

Five people have been arrested including the official suspected of deactivating the public address system.

In a Facebook post (in Russian), Kemerovo politician Anton Gorelkin said that "fire exits were shut, turning the complex into a trap" and "there was no organised evacuation".

He also said a fire extinguisher that could have doused the flames at the start did not work.

 Russian media are doing their best to absolve Putin of any blame, and certainly local officials have a lot to answer for.  People are going to jail over this shocking incompetence demonstrated by government officials – government officials who, ultimately, represent Putin.

Vladimir Putin has shown that he holds Russia in an iron grip.  What he doesn't control directly is controlled by his cronies, the oligarchs.  Putin has demonstrated in the past that these oligarchs are as beholden to him as vassal lords were beholden to a king during the Middle Ages.  If you cross him, you die or you go to jail.

The myth that Putin's government is competent and relatively corruption-free – a myth advanced by the Russian media, who are in Putin's pocket – has been exposed by this criminal act.  The truth is being kept from most of the Russian people, who are apt to believe in conspiracy theories that everything that goes wrong in Russia is the fault of someone else.  On the contrary, Russia's moribund economy, its diseased civic society, the oppression, the violence – all can be laid at the feet of Vladimir Putin.

The fact is, these guys aren't very smart and are extraordinarily corrupt.  The children who died in the mall fire in Kemerovo – "Putin's children" – have found that out the hard way.

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