Forty-one children were killed in the Kemerovo shopping mall fire in Russia, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, as President Vladimir Putin blamed the incident on “criminal negligence”.
A total of 64 people were killed in the blaze that erupted at a shopping centre in the industrial city on Sunday, one of the deadliest fires in Russia in the past 100 years.
"What is happening here? These are not armed hostilities. This is not an unexpected release of methane. People, children came to relax," Mr Putin, who arrived in Kemerovo on Tuesday, told officials after placing flowers on a makeshift memorial.
He said: "We are talking about demographics but are losing so many people. Because of what? Because of some criminal negligence, slovenliness."
The Kemerovo region declared three days of mourning beginning on Tuesday.
But many critics wondered why the Kremlin did not call a nationwide day of mourning and said national television channels did not pull entertainment programmes from their schedule quickly enough.
Some Muscovites are planning a vigil in the city centre on Tuesday evening, and several Russian cities declared a period of mourning in solidarity with Kemerovo.
Investigators and witnesses said many people — including children — were burnt alive because emergency exits were locked, notably at a multiplex cinema where children were watching cartoons.
The Investigative Committee said a criminal probe has been opened and that five people have been arrested, including an official of the mall's security firm who is suspected of deactivating the public address system when the fire broke out.