Cuts protests plunge Romania into crisis

The Romanian government was thrown into turmoil today over public strikes against cuts, with the interior minister resigning, the opposition demanding the prime minister go too and top police officials holding emergency talks with the president.

The chaos reflected social fallout from the sharp wage cuts, tax rises and other austerity measures the government has taken to fight its budget deficit amid a deep recession.

President Traian Basescu’s government has been unable to pay wages and pensions without a €20bn bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, and the IMF is demanding strong action to trim Romania’s debt.

Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, several times last week to protest. Some 6,000 police angry over a 25% wage cut marched to the presidential palace on Friday and pelted it with eggs, shouting “Get out, you miserable dog!”

Today Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said the protesting officers had staged an illegal action and “forgot the oath they swore.” Mr Blaga, a close ally of Mr Basescu, resigned, calling the move “one of honour.”

Later, Mr Blaga, Romania’s top police chief and the head of its anti-riot police all held an emergency meeting with Mr Basescu.

The Romanian president had dismissed his police protection in response to Friday’s protest, which he said had undermined state authority. Prime Minister Emil Boc followed suit. Both are now relying instead on security paid for by the presidential budget, one of the few not reduced in the cuts.

Liberal Party leader Crin Antonescu, meanwhile, called on both to resign.

Last year Romania’s economy shrank 7.1% and the government needed the bailout from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank, partly to pay state wages and pensions.

The anti-austerity protests are to continue this week.

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