Protesters, police clash in Bucharest, 59 hurt

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters clashed with riot police in the Romanian capital Bucharest at the weekend and 59 people were injured, paramedics said on Monday.

Analysts said the unrest, the worst in the Balkan country for more than a decade, could resume this week but was unlikely to affect the government’s austerity programme, one of the protesters’ grievances, at this stage.

Romania had until now avoided the type of violent street protests that have shaken Greece and other indebted European states despite state job and wage cuts and a value-added tax hike imposed to maintain a vital IMF-led bailout.

Thousands of people have rallied in several cities across Romania for four days running since Thursday, initially in support of a deputy health minister who quit in protest at a controversial draft healthcare legislation.

In response, the government cancelled the unpopular bill. But the demonstrations persisted and soon evolved into a general expression of discontent with austerity policies and poverty.

“We have never turned down any democratic form of protest, but we are completely dissociating ourselves from the vandalism we have seen last night,” Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu told a news conference.

He did not give a financial estimate of the damage – which included smashed windows of several major banks, and shops and cafes, as well as damage to landmark buildings, bus stops and public infrastructure. The leu currency and Bucharest stocks were largely unmoved.

“Compared to the rest of Europe, the protests we have seen here were very small, they are not a proper instrument yet,” said Cristian Patrasconiu, a political commentator. “But I do expect them to continue…This is a wave that has yet to break.”

Police said they had fined or started criminal investigations against 283 demonstrators involved in Sunday’s violence.

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