Romanian protests take nasty turn

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Romanian riot police fired tear gas at protestors who threw bricks and bottles back at them yesterday (19 January), as demonstrations against government austerity measures entered their second week.

The police arrested up to 50 people believed to have triggered the violence, including those accused of throwing mental fencing at officers, according to private television station Realitatea.

Hundreds of demonstrators from an opposition rally which took place earlier in the day joined the protest in the main Bucharest square in the evening. Traffic was blocked and protestor numbers there rose to 1,500, riot police said.

About 7,000 opposition supporters rallied in Bucharest earlier on Thursday to demand that government leaders resignation, following a week of anti-austerity protests across the country which have sometimes turned violent.

The rally was organised by the leftist opposition USL to press for the resignation of Prime Minister Emil Boc's centrist coalition and his ally President Traian B?sescu. The Social-Liberal Union (USL) is an alliance between three opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party of Victor Ponta, and the centre-right alliance made up of the National Liberal Party of Crin Antonescu and the Conservative Party of Daniel Constantin.

They paraded along a main boulevard from Bucharest's triumphal arch – modelled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – to the government headquarters, chanting "Down with B?sescu" and comparing him with former communist dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu.

"People are out on the streets in all the cities of Romania," USL co-leader Victor Ponta told the crowd, gathered in freezing temperatures.

"People are upset: many are angry because they lost their jobs, many are angry because their pensions were slashed, many others are humiliated by the rulers every day. But there is a single thing that unites us – we all want B?sescu out."

The USL staged its march separately from main square protests which erupted spontaneously last week after a popular deputy minister, a respected Palestinian-born medic, clashed with B?sescu and resigned over a controversial health reform plan.

Hundreds of demonstrators supporting the spontaneous movement are meeting every day in the square, as well as other cities, to attack pay cuts and tax increases the government has implemented under an International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.

The austerity policies have helped Romania to put its once troubled finances on a steadier footing, but have also slowed recovery from a deep and painful recession.

The USL has committed to stick with the IMF deal, but said it would revoke some of Boc's austerity measures if it takes power. It has called for a parliamentary election to be brought forward from late this year.

Latest opinion polls show support for the USL, a fragile leftist alliance, at about 50% compared with 18% for Boc's PDL.

Analysts say the protests are not big enough to sway policy but will make it even more difficult for the PDL to regain ground in the polls and hang on to power.

Background

 

Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat resigned earlier in January following his opposition to the health care provisions suggested by Romanian authorities that would privatise half the emergency healthcare system.

The incident sparked wide demonstrations that were soon transformed into violent protests against the government and proposed austerity measures. The authorities decided to withdraw the proposals but did not manage to ease the frustration of the protestors who continued their demonstrations.

The prime minister has announced that the health minister will form a task force to draft a new healthcare bill with input from doctors, patients and social groups. Arafat was also reinstated as deputy minister.

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