Romania anti-austerity protest turns violent

Police officer seriously injured after resignation of Palestinian-born doctor over health reforms sparks mass protests.

    Protesters waved Romanian flags with holes in them, symbolising the 1989 anti-communist revolution [Reuters]

    Romanian police have fired tear gas and clashed with protesters during an anti-government rally in the third consecutive day of demonstrations against austerity cuts and worsening living standards.

    Authorities said that at least ten people, including one police officer who was hit by airborne stones, were injured as a result of the Saturday clashes.

    "One policeman suffered a severe head injury and was hospitalised, two others were allowed to leave the hospital after being treated," police spokesman, Georgian Enache, said.

    Enache confirmed that two other police officers were discharged after treatment, and around 30 protesters were taken into police custody.

    More than 1,000 protesters waved flags with the centre ripped out, the symbol of Romania's anti-communist revolution, yelled anti-government slogans and called for early elections in Bucharest's main University Square, blocking traffic on a main thoroughfare.

    Young men climbed on cars waving flags and the crowd chanted anti-government slogans for hours, undeterred by chilly temperatures.

    After seven hours, protesters refused to leave, and scuffled with riot police who then used tear gas and flares.

    Controversial health reforms

    The protests were the most serious since President Traian Basescu came to power in 2004 and were the result of pent-up frustration against public wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

    In 2009, Romania took a two-year $27.5bn (20bn euro) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank, as its economy shrank by 7.1 per cent.

    Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25 per cent and increasing taxes.

    The catalyst for the protests, however, was the resignation of Raed Arafat, a popular health official, on Tuesday after he opposed health reforms that the government had proposed.

    Arafat, a Palestinian-born doctor, was forced to resign earlier this week after a row with Basescu over controversial health reform proposals.

    On Friday, Basescu told the government to scrap the reforms, but public anger had already risen against Basescu and the government.

    Protesters staged smaller anti-government rallies on Saturday in the Romanian cities of Timisoara, Constanta, Craiova and Cluj and in other smaller cities.

    One retired woman, Rodica Patran, said she objected to a pension freeze and a 25 per cent cut in public wages adopted by the centre-right government in July 2010.

    "We can no longer stand the poverty, enough is enough."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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