January 23, 2012 / 9:56 PM / in 8 years

UPDATE 3-Romanian PM sacks foreign minister for protest remarks

* Boc seeks to ease anger after anti-government protests

* PM struggling to stay in power in late 2012 election

* Protesters gather across country, more rallies seen

By Radu Marinas and Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc sacked his foreign minister on Monday for calling anti-government protesters “inept and violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations.

Protesters have staged rallies across the country while in the capital Bucharest they have pelted police with bricks and firebombs during 11 days of demonstrations calling for the resignation of Boc and President Traian Basescu in widespread anger over harsh austerity measures.

Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi likened the violent protesters last week to miners who, in the 1990s, descended on the capital to demand change, though he did distinguish between a minority of troublemakers and the peaceful majority.

Baconschi’s dismissal was a gesture to defuse what have become Romania’s most violent protests in more than a decade, analysts said, but doubted it would prove effective.

“I have taken the decision to recall Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and have forwarded a proposal to the Romanian president to remove him from his function for the comments he made,” Boc told parliament.

Romania has suffered little of the unrest that has struck other countries hit by rising economic hardship. But anger at Basescu and his close ally Boc, who cut jobs and state salaries by a quarter and raised value added tax, has now spilled over.

The measures to cut Romania’s deficit and help shore up its finances have put it on a more solid economic footing but have cut deep in the European Union’s second poorest member, where some villages and city districts still have no electricity or running water.

“This looks like a ritual sacrifice performed to calm those who are protesting,” said political commentator Mircea Marian. “But this move is not going to yield the desired result. I expect attendance numbers at protests to rise significantly tomorrow.”

ELECTIONS PENDING

On Monday, several hundred demonstrators - a mixture of students, pensioners, public sector workers and professionals - gathered in the melting snow in University Square, the place where the anti-communist revolution unfolded in 1989.

Waving Romanian flags, they chanted “resignation” and carried banners warning they would not go indoors until Basescu and Boc resigned. Smaller protests took place in other cities across the country.

“The government has done a good move in sacking Baconschi for his language,” said Viorel Porumb, a 63-year-old pensioner who said he had protested in the square every day since the protests started.

“But it is not enough and we will keep coming here until they all leave. We have nothing better to do.”

A rally by some 7,000 supporters of the opposition USL last week was Bucharest’s biggest since 2010 and more protests are planned for this week, most notably a demonstration by teachers and nurses on Tuesday.

Romania’s austerity measures have helped keep an aid deal led by the International Monetary Fund on track and maintained market confidence. But they may also have delayed recovery from a deep recession and have left Boc’s PDL party trailing in opinion polls on 18 percent.

The USL, a fragile leftist alliance which has also committed itself to working with the IMF, has about 50 percent support and is set to win a parliamentary election late this year.

“I totally agree with this decision,” USL co-leader Victor Ponta said of Baconschi’s dismissal. “But Romanians had expected much more.”

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