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Romanian report Romanian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-01-30 10:08:20
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Romania PM reappoints deputy minister to ease anger

Romania's Prime Minister Emil Boc on Tuesday reappointed a popular deputy health minister, whose resignation last week over proposed healthcare reforms sparked violent protests across the country. Raed Arafat, a respected Palestinian-born doctor who created an efficient medical emergency system in Romania, resigned after criticising the draft bill, which aimed to privatise parts of the health system and is backed by President Traian Basescu. Protests which initially began on Thursday in support of Arafat have widened to express general discontent against government spending cuts. Arafat's return is unlikely to satisfy thousands of Romanians who have staged street protests for five straight days and are gearing up for more. Protests in Bucharest on Tuesday drew more than 1,000 people but were largely peaceful. More rallies were expected on Wednesday, riot police officials have said. Thousands of protesters demonstrated in other cities.

"The protests signify an undercurrent of strong anti-Basescu feeling as well as discontent with the government's austerity measures," Barclays Capital' Daniel Hewitt said in a note. "This is hardly a game changer, but it is negative for the government because Romania had been relatively quiet for some time." Riot police estimated that a total 13,000 protesters have hit the streets across the country since Friday. Bucharest has seen Romania's worst unrest in more than a decade. Small rallies in support of Arafat quickly turned into wider protests calling for the resignation of Basescu and Boc's centrist coalition government, even though it has now withdrawn the healthcare bill. "He will resume his job as deputy health minister," Boc told reporters. "Mr Arafat remains the same expert and professional in his field ... and will be part of the team working on the new healthcare bill." Unlike other European states, Romania had managed to avoid violent protests despite cutting state wages and jobs, freezing pensions and raising value added tax in 2010 to shore up public finances it committed under an international aid deal.

In Bucharest at the weekend, protesters smashed windows, set fire to newspaper stands and rubbish bins, damaged bus stops and buildings and hurled stones at riot police, who used tear gas. "I think officials realised they have made a mistake in pushing away a reputed expert," said Cristian Patrasconiu, a political commentator. "But this move will not cancel the idea of protests, which have long ago moved to other topics than healthcare." Earlier in the day, Romanian media said the International Monetary Fund had postponed a mission to review Romania's precautionary aid deal due to the protests but the Fund said it would stick to its scheduled visit which starts on Jan. 25.


Romanians protest against gold mine plan

Hundreds of Romanians protested on Saturday against a plan to set up Europe's biggest open-cast gold mine in a small Carpathian town, joining a wave of anti-government rallies. For the past two weeks, thousands of citizens have gathered in cities across Romania to demand the resignation of President Traian Basescu and his close ally, Prime Minister Emil Boc, as anger over austerity measures and falling living conditions have spread. The protesters have also criticised Basescu and the centrist coalition government for backing the gold mine project in the western town of Rosia Montana. However, most town residents support it, and also held a rally on Saturday.

The project, which aims to use cyanide to mine 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver, has drawn fierce opposition from civic rights groups and environmentalists, who say it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages. It is led by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, majority-owned by Canada's Gabriel Resources Ltd with the Romanian government holding 19 percent. Waving Romanian flags and banners saying "United for Rosia Montana", about 300 protesters gathered outside parliament in Bucharest. They called on the government to deny Gold Corporation an environmental permit it needs to open the mine. "Never mind that this project is an utter environmental catastrophe waiting to happen, but it is also the worst possible business from a financial point of view for the Romanian state," said Vlad Rogati, a 61-year-old retired engineer at the rally. "We are being misled. The promised jobs for miners are an illusion."

Most of the 2,800 residents of Rosia Montana hope the project will bring jobs and money to their impoverished town, which took a hit when a state-owned gold mine closed in 2006. Only a small group of residents refuse to sell their property to make way for the mine. Television footage showed hundreds of people at the rally. "We are standing on gold but dying of hunger", said one banner. Gold Corporation has valued the mine at $7.5 billion, of which it said Romania would get about $4 billion in direct taxes, dividends, service providers and jobs.


Romanians take to streets in austerity winter

In December 1989, art student Titi Amzar risked his life to join the demonstrations in University Square that brought down reviled communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Now 43, Amzar is back on the square demanding much the same thing - a new leader for Romania. "All these post-communist governments have been incompetent," Amzar, now a designer, told Reuters at the crossing of broad boulevards in central Bucharest where some 50 protesters were killed more than 20 years ago. "The political class is the main culprit for the collapse of our economic system and the ills of the society."

Protests against President Traian Basescu and his close ally, Prime Minister Emil Boc, have occurred daily for two weeks and spread around the country, initially against proposed health reforms but quickly broadening to express unhappiness with tough austerity measures and corruption. Many demonstrators, like Amzar, have also criticized the opposition and questioned if any of Romania's current leaders can fix the country's problems. The unrest, the worst in more than a decade, is still far from serious enough to sway policy or threaten the government.

But it may derail Boc's chances in parliamentary elections late in 2012 and leave Basescu, who will not face the voters until presidential elections in 2014, stuck in an unhappy marriage with his opponents. Basescu has a theoretically non-executive position but makes almost all major Romanian policy announcements himself, including wage and pension cuts in 2010, a new International Monetary Fund deal and withdrawal of the healthcare reforms. The bluff former sea captain, president since 2004, made a serious misstep when he criticized the popular deputy health minister Raed Arafat, prompting his resignation and sparking the demonstrations. Basescu had accused Arafat; a Palestinian-born doctor who created Romania's widely admired main emergency response system, of being a left-winger - a sensitive thing to say in post-communist Romania - after he opposed privatization of the health system.

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