Thursday

28th May 2020

Romanian anti-government protests turn violent

More than 30 people were injured over the weekend in the most violent clashes in Romania since the 1989 revolution, as protesters vented anger at austerity measures.

Cars were set on fire, shops were looted and police used water canons and tear gas against demonstrators in Bucharest on Sunday night (15 January) - the fourth day of thousands-strong anti-government rallies.

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  • Hospital room in Sighet, near the Romania-Ukraine border (Photo: a_kep)

According to the ambulance service, 33 people have so far been injured. Fifteen needed emergency treatment, including three policemen. A TV journalist was beaten up by protesters while broadcasting live on Sunday. Police also arrested some 30 people - mostly football fans who joined the crowds with bats and smoke bombs.

The protests began as a peaceful show of support for Raed Arafat - a highly esteemed official who resigned on Tuesday from the ministry of health in a dispute over privatisation.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators in some 20 cities called for early elections and for Arafat to run for power. The opposition Social-Liberal Union (USL) also cried out for a snap vote, describing Romania as "a non-governed country."

For his part, the official - a Palestinian-born doctor who came to Romania in the 1980s and who became famous for creating a helicopter ambulance service - urged people to show restraint and said he had no political ambitions.

Part of the government's bid to cut public spending was to see ambulance units sold to private firms.

The authorities later conceded they need wider consultations. But centre-right president Traian Basescu last Monday on TV called Arafat a "liar" and a "leftist," prompting his resignation.

The government is to hold an emergency meeting on Monday. But the prime minister has said he will not step down. "Throwing stones is not a solution, what we need is dialogue ... At this time of crisis, political stability is crucial," he told journalists on Sunday after visiting an injured policeman in hospital.

In separate events, protesters also took to the streets of Budapest over the weekend.

The rally was organised by the far-right Jobbik party who said Hungary should leave the Union and who burned the EU flag.

It follows protests earlier this month by anti-government groups who say Prime Minister Viktor Orban's constitutional reforms undermine democracy.

Csanad Szegedi, a Jobbik member of European Parliament told the crowd of around 2,000 demonstrators that: "This week the EU declared war on Hungary in a very harsh and open way."

Szegedi was referring to threats by the European Commission to impose financial sanctions on Hungary due to its growing deficit and to take it to court over the constitutional changes.

Orban has failed to impress the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in his bid for financial aid as the Hungarian economy nears bankruptcy. The IMF on Friday also said it wants Orban to change constitutional reforms which give him political control over the central bank.

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