• Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF chief, addressed the cavernous Romanian parliament in March (Photo: IMF)

Romania sees biggest protest since 1989 over austerity measures

20.05.10 @ 09:24

  1. By Leigh Phillips

In some of the largest demonstrations Romania has seen since the ousting of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, tens of thousands of workers and pensioners have taken to the streets to protest the swingeing austerity measures the government is imposing at the behest of the International Monetary Fund.

Between 30,000 and 60,000 mostly public sector workers and retirees on fixed incomes descended upon the capital, Bucharest, on Wednesday (19 May), having been bussed in from across the country, and called on the government to resign.

In a worrying sign for the government, even police joined in the protest, with Marian Gruia, head of the policemen's union, calling fellow citizens to unite, "as we did in 1989, when we overthrew the dictatorship," according to a number of local media reports.

The centre-right coalition government of Emil Boc has announced public sector wage cuts of 25 percent and pension and unemployment benefit cuts of 15 percent in an attempt to bring down the country's budget deficit and assuage the concerns of markets. The measures come atop job-benefit reductions in some civil service sectors in 2009.

The Labour Ministry has announced job cuts of between 60,000 and 80,000 positions, including 15,000 teachers, meaning the likely closure of a number of schools in villages.

Additionally, a scheduled increase in the minimum wage has been postponed.

The government is imposing the cuts in order to be able to access another tranche of a €20 billion loan from the IMF. Earlier this month at an auction, the government was unable to attract sufficient takers for public debt.

Already last year, a loan installment from the international lender was delayed following the collapse of the government.

The administration has a small majority in the parliament and has said that it will seek a vote of confidence from the chamber over the measures.

Meanwhile, trade unions have warned they will step up their actions and plan to hold a general strike later this month.