Latvian government falls after PM resigns

Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis has resigned, taking remarkable political responsibility for a supermarket collapse that killed 54 people last week – and plunging the Baltic state into turmoil just weeks before it joins the euro.

Valdis Dombrovskis, centre, speaks to the media after the supermarket collapse. Picture: Reuters
Valdis Dombrovskis, centre, speaks to the media after the supermarket collapse. Picture: Reuters

The departure of Latvia’s longest-­serving premier yesterday brought down its centre-right government, a measure of the scale of the political uproar triggered by the tragedy in Riga.

President Andris Berzins said in a statement he planned to appoint a new government this year. Political analysts said that would stave off the chance of a snap vote earlier than the national elections already scheduled for October 2014.

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Economy minister Daniels Pavluts this week partly blamed the store collapse on a lack of oversight of construction projects. The government abolished a national building inspectorate as part of austerity measures that helped pave Latvia’s way into the single currency.

Mr Dombrovskis said: “I announce I am resigning from the post of prime minister, taking political responsibility for … the tragedy.”

He called for a continuation of centre-right government under a new leader as Latvia – bailed out by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in 2008 but which fought its way back to competitiveness with stringent austerity measures – prepares to adopt the euro on 1 January.

“Political parties should forget about their mutual grievances … and should agree on working together,” he added.

There is no clear successor to Mr Dombrovskis, who had been in office since 2009 and led the country through sweeping spending cuts and out of its worst economic downturn since independence.

Daunis Auers, professor of political science at the University of Latvia, said: “It is absolutely unclear who could succeed Dombrovskis, because he has dominated the political stage to such an extent that there is no number two.”

He said the new government would probably be composed of ethnic Latvian parties which have a majority in parliament. The centre-left, pro-Russian Harmony party, which represents much of Latvia’s large Russian-speaking minority, is unlikely to be part of any new coalition.

Prof Auers said: “Basically they will continue the policies of the past couple of years. They will be pro-market, pro-European and be for a balanced budget.”

The cause of the collapse of the Maxima supermarket remains unknown, though police have opened a criminal investigation focusing on the construction of the building. Local media said workers had been building a roof garden on the supermarket, a single-storey building about a 30-minute drive from the centre of the capital.

The prime minister had said the disaster shattered Latvia, a former Soviet republic which joined the EU nearly a decade ago. Mr Berzins called the disaster “murder”.