January 20, 2009 / 6:22 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Police fire pepper spray at Iceland protesters

(Adds detail, arrests, quotes)

REYKJAVIK, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Icelandic police fired pepper spray on Tuesday to control protesters demanding that the government resign for overseeing the country’s economic collapse.

A crowd estimated by police at more than 1,000, some hammering on pots and pans, gathered around the Althing parliament building in the capital Reykjavik.

“About 20 persons have sought assistance from medics, stationed by the Althing, to get treatment after having been sprayed with pepper spray,” Icelandic police chief Sigurbjorn Jonsson told Reuters.

State radio said 20 people had been arrested. Jonsson said police would comment on arrests once the protest was over.

Iceland’s currency plunged and its financial system collapsed in October under the weight of billions of dollars of foreign debts incurred by its banks. The volcanic island’s economy is expected to suffer a huge contraction this year while unemployment, once close to zero, is set to soar.

Protests against Prime Minister Geir Haarde’s government and the central bank have become a regular fixture in the once-tranquil streets of the capital. A parliament official said the demonstration had caused a 15-minute delay to Tuesday’s session.

Popular discontent over the impact of the global financial crisis has contributed to violent protests in several European countries, including Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Greece, which saw a wave of riots in December.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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