Romania: Mass protests force PM resignation

February 8, 2012

“What the government does, the streets can undo” may seem like just a slogan, but weeks of anti-austerity protests have forced the resignation of Romania's prime minister Emil Boc.

The protests began when a solidarity demonstration with deputy health minister Raed Arafat took a violent turn. Arafat had announced his resignation in opposition to a draft healthcare reform bill that partially privatised the healthcare system.

Riot police used tear gas against protesters, who responded by throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails.

The next few days saw the most brutal protests since the 1990s. Thousands of people have been out in the streets in 34 counties demonstrating against public sector wage cuts, reduced benefits, rising youth unemployment, higher value added tax and widespread corruption.

Romania is one of the poorest countries in the European Union, with an average salary of 350 euros a month. President Traian Basescu’s austerity measures have been deeply unpopular among students and workers.

Demonstrators are now calling for him to step down, four years after he became the first president in Romanian history to be suspended from office and two years after his widely contested re-election.

In the first days of unrest, the controversial draft healthcare bill was withdrawn. In the first week, Arafat was reinstated. On February 6, Boc resigned, along with his cabinet.

February 8 marked the 27th day of demonstrations in University Square, and, despite the snow and the -21°C temperatures, protesters say they aren’t leaving until the government does.

[Reprinted from Counter Fire.]

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