Romania reinstates public-health official

Raed Arafat's forced resignation over plans for healthcare reform had brought thousands onto the streets.

    A demonstrator holds up a bone during a protest against the government in central Bucharest [Reuters]

    Romania's centre-right government has reinstated a respected health official whose forced resignation last week triggered a wave of street protests.

    Raed Arafat, a Syrian-born Palestinian doctor who founded the country's emergency medical services in the 1990s, had stepped down after a row with President Traian Basescu over plans for healthcare reform.

    Emil Boc, the Romanian prime minister, said on Tuesday that "Raed Arafat will be restored to his former position of under-secretary of state" at the health ministry, and join a team entrusted with drawing up a new health-reform bill.

    Basescu had agreed to the move, Bloc said.

    Arafat's resignation had drawn thousands onto the streets in support, with many also venting their anger at the political class in general, tough austerity measures and government corruption.

    Though mostly peaceful, the demonstrations turned violent in Bucharest over the weekend when about 70 people were wounded in clashes with riot police.

    Austerity measures taken in the Eastern European country to fight recession and secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund have been hitting hard.

    In 2010, public-sector wages were cut by 25 per cent, thousands of jobs were axed in public administration and pensions were frozen.

    'Gesture of goodwill'

    Arafat said his return was "not due to pressure from the street" - though he thanked his supporters - but due to the government's willingness to engage in dialogue after plans to change the public emergency system were withdrawn.


    Nick Spicer reports from Bucharest

    "Protests started immediately after my resignation in support, but at this moment we are talking about a different situation, a social-political situation that does not necessary have links to doctor Raed Arafat," he said.

    He also called on demonstrators to avoid violence at all costs.

    Mircea Kivu, a sociologist, told the AFP news agency that "the government made a gesture of goodwill" by reinstating Arafat.

    But analysts were not sure this would be enough to stop the protests, as dozens of Romanians started to gather again in the streets on Tuesday afternoon.

    Boc had said on Monday that the government's painful austerity measures had started bearing fruit, even if the population had not yet felt the benefits.

    "Street violence will only impair our chance of creating prosperity more rapidly and put at risk Romania's situation on an international level," he said, urging dialogue.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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