Putin says Russian shopping complex fire was caused by 'criminal negligence'

The Russian president said that the fire, which killed 64 people, many of them children, could have been avoided if not for 'sloppiness' 

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said the fire which killed 64 people, many of them children, at a leisure complex in Kemerovo, Siberia, was caused by “criminal negligence”.

Visiting the scene, Putin said that it was down to “sloppiness”.

Investigators said the fire alarm was switched off and exits were blocked when the fire started on Sunday.

While the cause of the fire is not yet known, Russia's Investigative Committee has spoken of "serious violations" at the Winter Cherry mall.

"What is happening here?", the Russian president said after laying a wreath at the scene. "This is no battle or an unexpected methane outburst in a mine."

"People, children came to relax. We are talking about demography and are losing so many people because of what? Because of criminal negligence, sloppiness."

Interfax news agency reported that some 300 people gathered outside the local government headquarters demanding the dismissal of authorities.

Sunday's blaze started on an upper floor at around 5pm local time (11am GMT+1). The mall's shops, cinema and bowling alley were packed at the time.

A criminal investigation is ongoing and five people have been arrested, including the official suspected of deactivating the public address system.

The region's deputy governor, Vladimir Chernov, said "this is the question: Why were the doors shut?"

Chernov said that it was possibly the fire probably began in the children's trampoline room.

"The preliminary suspicion is that a child had a cigarette lighter which ignited foam rubber in this trampoline room, and it erupted like gunpowder," he said.

However, Rossiya 24 TV, a national broadcaster, said an electrical fault was the most likely cause - as in most previous deadly fires in Russia.