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Romanian Protesters Clash With Riot Police; About 60 Injured

Romanian Protesters Clash With Riot Police
Romanian police take position in the center of Bucharest during a demonstration against the government's austerity program and Romanian President Traian Basescu. Photographer: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

Romania’s capital Bucharest was rocked by violent protests against the government’s austerity measures over the weekend, leaving 60 people injured and dozens of banks and stores damaged.

About 8,700 people protested in 34 counties, demanding President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Emil Boc quit and calling for early elections. About 2,000 riot police officers, 10 of whom were injured, detained 247 protesters in Bucharest and charged 36 with abuse and vandalism, police spokesman Florin Hulea said at a conference today.

Romania has slashed public wages and raised taxes to cut the budget deficit to 1.9 percent of gross domestic product this year from 4.4 percent last year. Efforts to meet pledges to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have sparked unrest in the EU’s second-poorest nation, and violence marred demonstrators’ legitimate message, officials said.

“I think the looters have nothing to do with protesters who are out in the streets to peacefully complain about their problems,” Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu said at a press conference today. “I hope this violence will not be repeated and we will start work to repair the damage.”

The weekend violent outbreak, in which some threw stones, torched cars and broke into stores, capped several days of peaceful demonstrations in cities around the country to support a Health Ministry official who resigned because he opposed a draft law changing the health-care system.

Harming the Future

Basescu, who presented the law, withdrew it on Jan. 13, citing a “resistance to change.”

“Romanians have the right to peacefully demonstrate and we understand that they are going through difficult times, but we condemn all acts of violence that harm citizens’ safety,” Boc said today. “The acts of violence damage in the medium- to long-term the chances for Romania having strong economic growth with an impact on people’s purchasing power.”

The leu rose 0.17 percent to 4.3358 against the euro at 1:07 p.m. in Bucharest today.

The leu will come under pressure to weaken “should protests continue, increasing the chance of a power vacuum,” said Ana Morarescu, an analyst at ING Bank Romania SA, in a note to clients today.

“We have zero tolerance for violence and we ask all the citizens to distance themselves from these acts,” said Cristian Atanasaoie, the head of the Bucharest county board.

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