Opposition protests set for Thursday in Romania

A protester gestures during an anti-presidential rally in Bucharest on January 17, 2012.

Story highlights

  • The opposition is demanding early elections
  • Romania has seen six straight days of citizen protests
  • Tuesday's protests were mostly peaceful, officials say
  • Romanians are angry about unemployment, austerity measures
Romanian opposition leaders called for a series of protests beginning on Thursday to demand the resignation of government leaders and early elections.
The opposition leaders met with Prime Minister Emil Boc on Wednesday to discuss the situation Romania is facing, following six days of citizen protests.
"Early elections are the best solution we have to end the protests," opposition leader Crin Antonescu said. His coalition is asking for a new technocrat government to organize the balloting.
Boc said the parliament will decide whether or not the early elections are the best solution for the country. The government and opposition leaders have agreed to hold a special parliamentary session next week.
On Tuesday, thousands marched on the streets nationwide, asking for the resignation of President Traian Basescu and early elections. Many are angry over unemployment, which has forced Romanians to go abroad for jobs; others demonstrated against corruption or small state salaries.
The leaders agreed Wednesday on the creation of an economic council of experts, representing the government and the opposition, to find new ways of creating jobs.
A small number of people were arrested at the protests in Bucharest, the capital, officials said. Demonstrations took place nationwide under the supervision of thousands of police officers, officials said. No violent incidents were reported.
The protests are the most serious since Basescu's election in 2004. Over the weekend, protesters blocked traffic in the capital, Bucharest, waving flags with the centers ripped out to symbolize the 1989 revolution. Others carried signs reading "Liberty" and "Down with President Basescu."
Protests broke out last Thursday after Raed Arafat, a deputy health minister and opponent of health care changes proposed by the government, resigned. However, Arafat changed his mind on Tuesday, saying he had withdrawn his resignation. He added Basescu called him over the weekend to discuss the matter. Arafat gained popularity after creating what many Romanians see as an efficient medical emergency system.
Boc invited trade unions and employers to meet Tuesday on the labor code, but the labor unions refused to participate. After meeting with employers, Boc said the government is focused on creating new jobs for Romanians and providing financial support to those wishing to start businesses.
The protests also 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 to enforce austerity measures recommended by the IMF.
The opposition Social Liberal Union has asked Romania's Constitutional Court to analyze the law merging local and parliamentary elections, which are set to take place in the fall. The law passed after the government received a vote of confidence in parliament in December. The court's answer was postponed until January 25.