Austerity protests break out across Romania as health workers, police, civil servants protest

BUCHAREST, Romania — Anti-government demonstrations swept across Romania on Wednesday, with medical workers, taxi drivers and civil servants protesting cuts in salaries, bonuses and jobs.

Authorities fired tear gas after health workers scuffled with guards and tried to break into a hospital late Tuesday in Braila in southeast Romania. Workers broke an entrance door but were pushed back by security forces.

On Wednesday, about 100 nurses, cleaners and other employees protested outside the Braila hospital and the health ministry sent in a team in assess the situation.

Romania, mired in recession, cut public sector wages 25 per cent in July and hiked sales taxes to keep the budget deficit under control. The cutbacks aimed to meet conditions for a €20 billion ($25 billion) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank. Some of the money was used to pay pensions and wages as the economy contracted 7.1 per cent last year.

In addition, the health system in Romania is underfunded and understaffed, leading to a brain drain as thousands of doctors and nurses seek employment abroad.

In the southeast county of Vrancea, about 1,000 town workers and mayors protested Wednesday against a government decision to cut local budgets for 2010 by 34 million lei (€8 million), claiming the measure will bankrupt small communities.

In Bucharest, several hundred self-employed taxi drivers protested a government measure that requests they pay health contributions retroactively for the last five years.

Police also threatened to work less next week to protest the 25 per cent wage cut. They said Wednesday they will answer emergency calls, but will not go on patrols, conduct traffic or hand out fines.

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