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Latvia's prime minister resigns over supermarket collapse

Latvia's prime minister has resigned after accepting political responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket roof that killed 54 people. His resignation comes as Latvia is due to join the eurozone in January.

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned in the wake of last week's supermarket roof collapse in the capital Riga that killed more than 50 people. His resignation automatically means the fall of his center-right government.

"Considering the tragedy and all related circumstances... a new government is needed that has the clear support of parliament," Dombrovskis told reporters, after a meeting with President Andris Berzins. "Therefore I have submitted my resignation from the post of prime minister."

It was not immediately clear whether the Berzins would push for a snap election or attempt to form a new government with the existing parliament.

Longest serving PM

Dombrovskis (pictured center), who came to power in 2009, was the longest serving prime minister in Latvia's history and his resignation throws the country into political turmoil ahead of its planned entrance into the eurozone in January.

Fifty-four people died and 40 others were injured when the roof of a Maxima supermarket caved in last Thursday in the Zolitude suburb of the capital Riga.

The cause of the disaster, among Europe's worst in decades, remains unknown but police have opened a criminal investigation focusing on the construction of the building.

The government had come under criticism after the disaster. Dombrovskis had previously said the collapse had shattered Latvia, a Baltic state of two million people.

Collapse 'murder'

The government declared three days of mourning starting Saturday, when President Berzins called the disaster "murder."

"This is a case where we need to say clearly it is the murder of an enormous number of defenseless people, and that's how we should proceed," he said on Latvian television, though he did not single anyone out.

Dombrovskis has been credited with preventing the small nation from going bankrupt and turning it into an example of fiscal prudence and economic recovery after a deep financial crisis hit in 2008. The former Soviet republic has been a part of the European Union for nearly a decade.

hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)