— Prime Minister Victor Ponta of Romania
, already under pressure from a corruption inquiry, said on Wednesday that he was resigning after huge protests in response to a nightclub fire over the weekend that killed at least 32 people.
More than 20,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, on Tuesday night to demand the resignations of Mr. Ponta; of Gabriel Oprea, the deputy prime minister; and of Cristian Popescu Piedone, the mayor of the Bucharest district where the nightclub is.
“I have the obligation to acknowledge that there is legitimate anger in society,” Mr. Ponta said in a statement. “People feel the need for more, and it would be wrong of me to ignore this.”
Protesters blame the government for the lax granting of permits and for inadequate inspections of public venues. Some in the crowd carried signs that read “Corruption Kills.”
“I do not want, nor do I think it is fair, to leave this responsibility on those who have been in the field or on the mayors, secretaries of state, ministers,” Mr. Ponta said in his statement. “I am ready to be the one to make this gesture that parts of society are waiting for, and starting today, I am resigning my mandate as prime minister. I do this because in my years as a politician I put up a fight in any battle with political opponents. However, I won’t put up a fight against the people.”
The scale and urgency of the protests had shaken Romania’s political establishment.
On Tuesday night, President Klaus Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page: “I am impressed by the events this evening. It is a street movement that comes from the desire of people to have their condition and dignity respected. I understood that they ask and expect, rightly so, for someone to assume political responsibility.”
After Mr. Ponta’s resignation, a government meeting was scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the cabinet is to decide on next steps.
Mr. Ponta, who had been in office for three and a half years, was already the subject of controversy. He was indicted in July on charges including forgery, money laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008.
He had strenuously denied the charges and, until Wednesday, resisted calls to step down, although he did surrender his position as the leader of the Social Democratic Party.
In 2012, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, announced that it would increase monitoring of Romania because of alarm about the country’s insufficient commitment to democratic values. Romania and Bulgaria joined the bloc in 2007 on the condition that they submit to regular reviews because of concerns about corruption and organized crime.
At that time, Romania was told that “urgent” action was needed to show its commitment to the rule of law, after a clash between its newly elected government and Traian Basescu, then the president, provoked a crisis.