Romanians again protest as US urges peace

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2012 12:11 PM
Romanians again protest as US urges peace

Hundreds of people gathered in Romania's capital for the eighth day Friday as a U.S. official urged Romanians to avoid the violence that has tarred anti-government protests that have left more than 60 people injured.

The comments from State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland were broadcast by local media as people again came together in Bucharest's University Square _ a focal point of the recent demonstrations, and a centerpiece of the 1989 anti-communist revolution.

About 500 demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Traian Basescu's government and early elections. They say they've had enough of austerity measures which have left ordinary people impoverished, while officials waste public money and appear to get wealthier. About 100 teachers also joined Friday's protests, saying education is underfunded and they can't afford to live on their salaries which have been slashed by one-fourth.

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 perceived widespread corruption.

Nuland said Friday that the U.S. supported people's right to protest and express their views "peacefully."

"But we call on both protesters and authorities to refrain from any violence," she added.

A majority of the protests across the country have been peaceful, but at times clashes between riot police and some groups of demonstrators have turned violent.

On Thursday, as a large crowd of people marched through Bucharest and blocked traffic, police used tear gas after protesters started a fire and set up a barricade. Five people were injured.

Riot police official Aurel Moise defended the move and said 100 protesters had been questioned Thursday on suspicion of throwing stones and using iron fences to break through police lines _ 32 of whom were still being held Friday, according to prosecutors.

One person has been arrested on charges of looting and is being held for 25 days pending trial, they added.

Moise also accused the media of fomenting anti-police discontent. Romanian media have broadcast footage of people who claim they have been beaten or fined by the police for no reason.

Prosecutors on Friday said they are also investigating four police officers for their conduct during the clashes.