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Police clash with protesters in Romania

By Liliana Ciobanu, for CNN
January 15, 2012 -- Updated 0152 GMT (0952 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tear gas is fired to disperse thousands of protesters
  • The demonstrations were against government austerity measures
  • It was the third day of protests

Bucharest, Romania (CNN) -- Police in Bucharest fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters who gathered Saturday to demonstrate against government austerity measures and poor living standards.

Protesters calling for President Traian Basescu's resignation and early elections blocked traffic in the capital's University Square. Many waved flags with the centers ripped out to symbolize the 1989 communist revolution. Others carried signs reading "Liberty" and "Down with President Basescu."

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to calm the crowd. Several people were injured and taken to the hospital, including one police officer who suffered a head injury after demonstrators hit him with stones.

The protests broke out Thursday after Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat, an opponent of health reforms proposed by the government, resigned.

Facing public pressure, Basescu decided to scrap the reforms Friday, saying he made the decision after realizing that a majority of those in the medical system opposed the change.

"The hospitals don't want the change, the (doctors) don't want the change and neither does the emergency health care system," Basescu said.

Critics had argued that the proposal favored the private health care system by allowing access to government funds while the state-funded system lacks financial aid.

Over the past three days, protesters held demonstrations in major cities around Romania, including Cluj, Timisoara, Iasi and Targu Mures.

The protests follow several unpopular measures taken by the government over the past two years. After receiving a loan of 20 billion euros from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in 2009, the government cut salaries in the public sector by 25% a year later in order to enforce austerity measures recommended by the IMF.

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