Rioting in Romania: The battle of Bucharest
“POLENTA doesn’t explode” is the gnomic phrase Romanians use to describe the attitude of resigned acceptance typical to the country. But this weekend something snapped. Thousands of people took to the streets in Bucharest and 40 other towns, venting their anger at their leaders’ perceived incompetence in dealing with Romania’s economic crisis.
The centre of Bucharest was hit by violence on a scale unseen in two decades. Traian Băsescu, the centre-right president, is the main target of the protesters’ ire. “Get out, you miserable dog” they chanted, as they hurled paving stones and smoke bombs at riot police. Water cannons and tear gas were used to dispel the crowds.
Sixty people, including several police officers, were injured in the clashes. The police head admitted that his officers may have been “over-zealous” at times. Earlier today Emil Boc, the prime minister, condemned the violence but conceded that his government’s austerity measures had “brought hardships upon people”.
The immediate trigger for the riots was the resignation of Raed Arafat, a popular official in the health ministry, who stepped down after clashing with Mr Băsescu over a set of controversial reforms to the health-care system. Mr Boc has now offered to revise the plans, and offered an olive branch to Mr Arafat.
The Palestinian-born doctor, who emigrated to Romania in the 1980s, had helped set up a professional medical emergency system. He disagreed with a government proposal to privatise it, as part of its drive to cut public spending. “Quality does not automatically arrive with privatisation. For the patient, the system will be weaker,” he said announcing his resignation. A day earlier Mr Băsescu had called Mr Arafat a liar on television, adding that he had “leftist” views.