Romania locks down for more austerity protests

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Jan. 20, 2012 16:24
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Anti-government protesters march in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012.
Photo by AP
BUCHAREST - Demonstrators started gathering in central Bucharest on Friday and Romania prepared to deploy riot police over the weekend after a week of anti-austerity protests turned violent.
About 7,000 opposition supporters marched through Bucharest on Thursday, while at a separate demonstration later in the day police fired tear gas against protesters who threw bricks and bottles.. Police detained about 100 people.

Interior ministry spokesman Marius Militaru said it was hard to tell for now whether there would be more protests over the weekend. "All I can tell you is that we will line up riot police for public order on the downtown streets."

The demonstrations began after President Traian Basescu criticised the popular deputy health minister who resigned. The minister, Raed Arafat, has since been reinstated in a failed attempt to calm the situation.

Protesters, angered by austerity measures which include salary cuts and a rise in sales tax, have called for Basescu and his close ally Prime Minister Emil Boc to resign.

Romania is already the European Union's second-poorest country, with per capita income less than half the bloc's average, and the austerity measures meant to turn around the country's troubled finances have hit hard.

The protests - Romania's most violent in more than a decade - are unlikely to be enough to change policies which are needed to keep International Monetary Fund support and are backed by the leftist opposition USL.

Their size is still well short of the protests which erupted when austerity measures were introduced in 2010, the biggest of which attracted 30,000 people.

But they leave Prime Minister Emil Boc's ruling PDL in a challenging position as it seeks to regain ground before elections due later this year. Polls give the PDL about 18 percent support compared to 50 percent for the USL.

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