PM warns violence could destabilize Romania

January 16, 2012 4:15:02 AM PST
Romania's prime minister warned Monday that violent protests that left 59 injured over the weekend could jeopardize the country's stability and chances for economic growth.

Some of the around 1,000 protesters clashed with police in downtown Bucharest Sunday, after four days of demonstrations against the government's austerity measures turned violent. Police used tear gas and flares to repel demonstrators hurling stones and firebombs.

Emil Boc called the violence "unacceptable," and said it "cannot be tolerated." He promised, however, that a controversial health law that sparked the protests will be redrafted.

He urged Romanians to understand that tough austerity measures were needed to avoid a default.

"We understand the hardships Romanians are facing ... The crisis has been harsher than we imagined," Boc added.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year (euro) 20 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. Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25 percent and increasing taxes.

A medical official said Monday that 59 people suffered injuries in the disturbances. Alis Grasu of Bucharest's ambulance services said that 23 people were briefly hospitalized and three are still in the hospital.

Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu said people smashed the windows of shops, banks and bus stations, and street lights were also vandalized.

Anger has mounted in Romania over public wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

A police official said Monday that about 250 people were fined for their conduct during the protests and 36 will be investigated for violence.

Aurel Moise said that a contingent of the violent protesters were fans of a local football club, suggesting that they had come to cause trouble, rather than take part in the protest.

Authorities urged peaceful protesters to distance themselves from troublemakers at any future marches.