New anti-government protests in Romania

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2012 2:25 PM
New anti-government protests in Romania

About 2,000 people demonstrated against Romania's harsh austerity measures in cities across the country on Wednesday and demanded the government's resignation.

"Romania, Wake up!" and "Romania, Save yourself!" about 300 of the demonstrators shouted in Bucharest's University Square, a centerpiece of protests against the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu during the 1989 anti-communist revolution that led to Romania's birth of democracy.

No violence was reported in the protests, which have now occurred seven days in a row.

On Wednesday, thousands of people are expected in a march through Romania's capital to call for the resignation of the unpopular government.

In Strasbourg, France, Martin Schulz, the newly elected chief of the European Parliament, said Wednesday that Romanian officials should take urgent economic action to improve the public's living standards. He said governments in all countries, but especially hard-hit Romania, should listen to protesters' grievances.

Opposition leaders urged Prime Minister Emil Boc to fire his interior minister and begin talks on early elections to replace his government. Boc rejected both demands, saying early elections are not justified because Romania has a ballot scheduled next fall.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year euro20 billion ($27.5 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank as its economy shrank by 7.1 percent. It imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25 percent and increasing taxes. Anger has mounted over the wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

In another development Wednesday, a media organization urged Romanian authorities to identify and prosecute protesters and policemen who reportedly attacked nine journalists during previous violent anti-government demonstrations.

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization said that reporters were assaulted while covering protests against the austerity measures that degenerated into violence in Bucharest on Sunday and Monday. At least 59 people were injured during the disturbances.

The media organization said the exact number of attacked journalists is not known. However, it mentioned nine cases of journalists and other media employees who were either hit by stones and Molotov cocktails hurled by protesters or allegedly detained or beaten by riot police.

The Romanian Press Club, which represents journalists in Romania, expressed concern over "some excessive actions" by police who allegedly targeted journalists. Chairwoman Indira Crasnea said Wednesday the club is aware of up to five cases of journalists who were attacked in the first days of the protest when the police were "tougher" in their handling of violent demonstrators.

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AP writer Alison Mutler contributed from Bucharest.