Another anti-government protest in Romania

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2012 2:58 PM
Another anti-government protest in Romania

Thousands of Romanians, including teenage students who cut class, marched through their capital on Thursday to demand the resignation of their government for imposing harsh austerity measures in order to receive international loans for the nation's battered economy.

It was one of the largest protests in recent times in Bucharest and came after a week of sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations.

As the march reached University Square, protesters blocked traffic and shouted what has become a trademark slogan aimed at President Traian Basescu: "Get out, you miserable dog."

The square _ a focal point of recent protests _ is historically significant for Romanians because it was a centerpiece of the 1989 anti-communist revolution that led to Romania's birth of democracy.

On Thursday, some protesters pretended to hang Basescu and his close political ally, Tourism and Regional Development Minister Elena Udrea, by stringing their dummies to gallows set up in the square.

"Resign!" and "Down with Basescu!" other protesters screamed.

Some 14-year-old students at a school located along the route of the march abandoned class to join the demonstration. "To prison with you!" the students yelled at their president.

Police said 7,000 attended the rally, while organizers claimed the crowd was far larger.

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.

On Thursday, Basescu made his first public appearance since the protests began a week ago in an address to ambassadors in Bucharest. He spoke about Iran, the Middle East, domestic reforms and the "Arab Spring," but did not touch on the demonstrations or the anger over the state of Romania's economy.

During the Bucharest rally, one protester who only identified himself as Tudor, a 43-year-old locksmith said: "We want decent salaries and pensions. We want change _ from the top to the bottom."

Another protester, a 55-year-old nurse named Lorelei said, "We wouldn't have needed to have austerity measures if our governments hadn't stolen so much and bled us dry." She said she has attended all this week's anti-government rallies.

Three opposition parties organized Thursday's march, with protesters arriving in the capital from all over the country. Opposition leaders and Romanian personalities addressed the crowd before the march.

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Alison Mutler reported from Bucharest.