Mike Collier in Riga -
Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis announced his surprise resignation Wednesday, November 27 over the collapse of a supermarket in the Zolitude district of Riga, which resulted in the deaths of 54 people. This leaves the door open to either early elections or an interim government to run things until the next elections due in October 2014.
Speaking after a morning meeting with President Andris Berzins, Dombrovskis stunned journalists by saying: "My government takes political responsibility for the tragedy at Zolitude... and therefore I have submitted my resignation."
"I want to say thank you to the Latvian public for its support throughout a period of economic and financial crisis management and for allowing Latvia to return to growth. I apologize for those things that failed."
Having served more than four years since coming to power in April 2009, Dombrovskis is Latvia's longest serving prime minister since the restoration of independence in 1991.
The deaths of so many in the Zolitude disaster have shocked the Baltic nation of 2m, with growing calls for those responsible to be punished and for public officials to do their jobs properly.
Having seen the funerals Wednesday morning of three firefighters killed trying to save people from the wreckage of the store, Dombrovskis seems to have done the decent thing without any great clamour for him to step down. The PM is viewed as - unusually for Latvian politics - an honest man, though his government was increasingly unpopular. A recent poll found 75% of Latvians were unsatisfied with the government, with just 19% satisfied.
Dombrovskis's resignation signals the end of his minority cabinet, spokesman Martin Panke told Bloomberg. The next election is scheduled for October 2014, meaning that either there will be early elections or a coalition of current parliamentary parties could form an interim government.
"The president is likely to accept Dombrovskis' resignation, but ask him to stay in office until after the general elections already scheduled for October 2014," says Otilia Dhand,
Vice President of Teneo Intelligence. "Under Latvian law, early elections could only result from parliament voting in favour of its own dissolution with an absolute majority, as all other initiatives leading to early elections are barred in the period of 12 months before the regular vote. Such a vote is unlikely, as most of the parliamentary parties would stand to lose a significant proportion of their parliamentary representation if a vote was called at this point."
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