Romania protests over health bill continue

BUCHAREST Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:16pm EST

People shout slogans during a protest against Romania's President Traian Basescu at the University Square in Bucharest January 16, 2012.  REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

People shout slogans during a protest against Romania's President Traian Basescu at the University Square in Bucharest January 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian protesters clashed with riot police in Bucharest on Sunday and demonstrated in other large cities, as protests spread for a fourth day despite a government decision to cancel an unpopular healthcare reform bill.

The protests began on Thursday in support of a deputy health minister who quit after criticizing a draft bill that would have added private firms to the state health sector.

The cabinet withdrew the bill on Friday, but that did little to assuage the demonstrators, who returned to the streets to express general anger at a government that has imposed severe spending cuts.

On Sunday evening, demonstrators threw rocks at riot police who in turn fired teargas into the crowd. Rubbish bins were torched near the University of Bucharest in the capital centre. As riot police tried to disburse protesters, the confrontation moved towards Unirii square, also in downtown.

Protesters had started gathering in the afternoon, with numbers growing to an estimated 800 in the evening, and several hundred students were expected to join in. Demonstrators called for the resignation of President Traian Basescu and of the centrist coalition government of Prime Minister Emil Boc.

Carrying whistles and Romanian flags, protesters chanted "Resignation" and held banners that said "We want respect" and "No more corruption." Hundreds of people also protested in large Romanian cities like Cluj, Timisoara and Iasi.

The government has taken painful measures under a two-year aid deal led by the International Monetary Fund - including raising value added tax and cutting state wages - to shore up state finances and stabilize the leu currency. The steps have been deeply unpopular as Romania recovers from recession.

Protests started on Thursday after the resignation of Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat, who had criticized the draft healthcare reform bill.

"Arafat was only the spark," said Jean Sandulescu, 63, a railroad worker. "But after everything they have done, we want them (the government) to go."

Riot police estimated up to 4,000 Romanians staged protests on Saturday in more than 20 cities, although the actual numbers may be higher. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, but in Bucharest some protesters threw stones at riot police who shot tear gas into the crowd on Saturday evening.

Traffic on one of Bucharest's busiest streets was temporarily blocked and a few dozen people, including three riot police, needed medical attention.

Riot police removed 29 demonstrators from protests saying they had instigated violence and the blocking of traffic.

"It is unlikely the government will cave in to protests, although they pile more pressure on the ruling Democrat Liberal Party, which is clearly losing even more support," said political commentator Mircea Marian.

"Let's see what next week will bring, although I don't think protests can continue for much longer. People have jobs."

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Comments (1)
Radu24 wrote:
What happens is not against austerity measures, not at all. It is against the greed for power of Traian Basescu and his personal servants, meaning PDL and its political clients. It is their despise of ordinary people, of legal ways to promulgate new laws through Parliament, of their general tendency to appropriate all the key positions in all the institutions, so all the power in the country. Look how were promulgated the new laws in the past 6 months and look who rules the institutions in the entire country and you will have the today people’s actions explained: contempt of the political power regarding the law. For fighting this Romania deserves respect for its people’s actions! We hope and fight for better days!
People have many reasons to be angry. We have a lot of debts
to pay to IMF, increasing taxes (like VAT from 19% to 24%), increasing prices
(oil, gas, electric power), specialists leaving Romania for western European
countries and US, cut salaries in the public sector by 25%, pension taxes (more
than 16%), lots of government laws taken without consulting the Parliament,
when consulting the Parliament frauds were made by counting 2 or 3 times the
members of those who sustained the government (like pension law to increase
retiring age) and many others. And this is what president Basescu with his
government are doing with our money: expensive sport halls in small towns, ski slopes in the middle of nowhere and lots of money given to “their private sector” (like it was intended in the last medical “reform”).
President Basescu thinks he knows better than any specialist what to do in any area
(like Ceausescu).

Jan 17, 2012 9:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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