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Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign

The prime minister of Romania has announced his resignation. It follows mass protests over a deadly nightclub fire in the capital Bucharest.

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Romania: Ponta quits after protests

In a statement Wednesday, Ponta, who had previously ignored multiple calls to resign, confirmed he was stepping down.

"I'm handing in my mandate; I'm resigning, and implicitly my government too," Ponta said. It was unclear what exactly the new governance arrangements would be, but President Klaus Iohannis was expected to name a prime minister to form a new government, which would need to be approved by parliament. If that failed, early elections could be called.

Thousands of people had rallied late Tuesday in Bucharest demanding accountability for the deadly fire at a nightclub in the capital last Friday evening. The death toll from the disaster has risen to 32.

The protesters, shouting "Shame on you!" and "Assassins," called for the resignation of Ponta, Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea and the mayor of the district where the Colectiv nightclub was located.

"I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society," Ponta added. "I hope handing in my and my government's mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters."

The leader of the country's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, had earlier indicated the prime minister would step down.

"Someone needs to assume responsibility for what has happened. This a serious matter and we promise a quick resolution of the situation," Dragnea said.

"You probably noticed thousands of people last evening and what they demanded," he added, referring to the protest.

Corruption allegations

Other demonstrations in recent months had been held calling for Ponta to step down over corruption allegations. In September, the 43-year-old became the first-ever Romanian premier to stand trial while in office. He faces charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering dating back to 2007-2011, when he was working as a lawyer.

Ponta, who took office as prime minister in 2012, had ignored pressure to resign, saying doing so would cause political instability. He had aimed to serve out his term until the end of 2016, when the next parliamentary elections are currently scheduled.

"I can carry any political battles, but I can't fight with the people," Ponta told reporters.

se/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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