BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc sacked his foreign minister Monday for calling anti-government protesters “inept and violent slum-dwellers” following more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations.
Protesters in the capital Bucharest and some other cities have pelted police with bricks and Molotov cocktails during 11 days of rallies demanding Boc and President Traian Basescu resign over the introduction of economic austerity measures.
Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi last week likened the violent protesters 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 they 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 functions 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. However, anger at Basescu and his close ally Boc, who cut state salaries by a quarter and raised sales taxes, has now spilled over.
The measures to cut Romania’s deficit and help rebalance the books 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 independent 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.”
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.
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 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 the country’s 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.”
Additional reporting by Sam Cage and Luiza Ilie; Editing by Ben Harding