Romania minister quits over protest

Interior minister Vasile Blaga resigns after thousands of police take part in an unauthorised protest over wage cuts.

    Thousands of police angry over a 25 per cent wage cut marched on Friday to the presidential palace [AFP]

    Vasile Blaga, the Romanian interior minister, has resigned three days after thousands of police took part in an unauthorised protests and chanted anti-government slogans over wage cuts.

    Emil Boc, the prime minister, has replaced Blaga with Traian Igas, a senator from the ruling Liberal Democrat Party, in a nomination approved by Traian Basescu, the president.

    Speaking on Monday, Blaga said: "This morning I have tendered my resignation, as a gesture of honour.

    "I respect the policemen's right to demonstrate but only in a legal framework."

    The resignation comes amid increasing anger in the country over the government's austerity measures, including sharp wage cuts and tax hikes, as it attempts to tackle the budget deficit amid a deep recession.

    The opposition has demanded the resignation of Boc and top police officials have held emergency talks with Basescu.

    The government was only able to pay many employee's wages and pensions following a $26bn bailout loan last year from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders.

    In return, the IMF has demanded strong action to trim the country's national debt.

    Romania's two-party coalition government, which does not hold an absolute majority in the legislature, is further hampered by the need to find consensus on how to best turn around the economy.

    'Illegal protest'

    Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, several times last week in protest at the austerity measures.

    But the government was most shocked when 6,000 police officers, angry over a 25 per cent wage cut, marched on Friday to the presidential palace and threw eggs at it.

    Some shouted: "Get out, you miserable dog!"

    Blaga said the protesting officers had staged an illegal action and "forgot the oath they swore" when they earned their badges.

    Boc and Basescu have both dismissed their police protection, saying Friday's protest had undermined state authority.

    Both are now relying instead on security paid for by the presidential budget, one of the few areas of government not cut.

    More anti-austerity protests are expected on Tuesday in Bucharest, organised by two large trade unions.

    Thousands of medical workers, employees of Romania's national railway and others are expected to march.

    Europe-wide protests

    The demonstrations in Romania are just one element of the economic discontent being witnessed across much of Europe.

    Anti-austerity protests have taken place in France, Greece, Spain and other nations as governments struggle to balance budgets at a time of lingering economic weakness.

    Thousands of public sector workers demonstrated on Monday in Slovenia, in an open-ended strike to protest against plans to freeze their salaries for two years.

    Last week, an estimated one million people marched in France against plans to raise the retirement age to 62.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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