Ro­ma­nia: sec­ond night of protests af­ter 450 in­jured in clashes

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Agence France-Presse, Bucharest

Tens of thou­sands gath­ered in the Ro­ma­nian cap­i­tal Bucharest on Satur­day for a sec­ond straight day of demon­stra­tions af­ter more than 450 peo­ple were hurt and around 30 ar­rested in a huge anti-cor­rup­tion protest on Fri­day.

Po­lice came in for crit­i­cism af­ter they used wa­ter can­nons and tear­gas to dis­perse protesters call­ing on the left­wing gov­ern­ment to re­sign. Many demon­stra­tors needed treat­ment af­ter in­hal­ing pep­per spray and tear­gas, while oth­ers suf­fered blows, hos­pi­tal sources said. About 30 po­lice were also in­jured, 11 of whom were taken to hos­pi­tal.

Mas­sive crowds gath­ered in down­town Bucharest on Satur­day night, watched by se­cu­rity forces as they chanted: “Down with the gov­ern­ment” and “Jus­tice, not cor­rup­tion”.

“I came af­ter see­ing what hap­pened on Fri­day on tele­vi­sion – the bru­tal­ity of the po­lice against peace­ful peo­ple,” said Floarea Toader, 64, the na­tional yel­low, blue and red flag draped across her shoul­ders. “My chil­dren work in Spain and they would like to come back. But for now that’s not pos­si­ble as the politi­cians are only in­ter­ested in them­selves and do noth­ing for any­one else.”

About 4 mil­lion peo­ple have left the coun­try – one of the Euro­pean Union’s poor­est – in the past 15 years, seek­ing a bet­ter life than that of­fered by Ro­ma­nia’s av­er­age monthly wage of just €520 (£465).

Po­lice re­jected crit­i­cism from the cen­tre-right op­po­si­tion that its of­fi­cers had used ex­ces­sive force on Fri­day, say­ing its re­sponse to vi­o­lence by dozens of protesters had been “grad­ual and pro­por­tion­ate”.

Se­bas­tian Kurz, Aus­tria’s chan­cel­lor, whose coun­try cur­rently holds the EU ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency, crit­i­cised the vi­o­lence, in which a cam­era­man for Aus­tria’s pub­lic broad­caster was also hurt. “We strongly con­demn the vi­o­lent clashes in Bucharest where nu­mer­ous demon­stra­tors and jour­nal­ists were in­jured. We ex­pect full ex­pla­na­tions,” he said on Twit­ter.

Lo­cal me­dia said up to 80,000 peo­ple had taken to the streets, among them many Ro­ma­nian ex­pa­tri­ates who re­turned home to show their anger at the graft in one of the EU’s most cor­rup­tion-plagued mem­ber states.

About 1,000 of­fi­cers in riot gear in­ter­vened to clear the crowds as­sem­bled in a cen­tral square out­side the main gov­ern­ment build­ing af­ter some protesters tried to break through the po­lice cor­don.

Eu­gene, a 62-year-old con­struc­tion worker, trav­elled spe­cially to Bucharest on Fri­day to protest at what he said was “en­demic cor­rup­tion”. He added: “But things quickly turned bad. They fired tear gas at us – it was un­bear­able.”

An­other demon­stra­tor, Madalina, 22, said of Fri­day’s clashes: “We couldn’t breathe and we had to seek shel­ter in the sur­round­ing streets.”

Klaus Io­han­nis, Ro­ma­nia’s cen­treright pres­i­dent and a critic of the gov­ern­ment, said he “strongly con­demned the bru­tal in­ter­ven­tion of the po­lice, which was dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the at­ti­tude of most demon­stra­tors”, but added that “any form of vi­o­lence is un­ac­cept­able”.

Vior­ica Dan­cila, the prime min­is­ter, in turn ac­cused Io­han­nis of “in­cit­ing the pop­u­la­tion against the au­thor­i­ties”.

In a con­tro­ver­sial move last month, Ro­ma­nia sacked top anti-graft prose­cu­tor Laura Co­druta Kovesi, who is con­sid­ered a sym­bol of the coun­try’s fight against cor­rup­tion. With Kovesi at the helm, the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice had led a crack­down on cor­rup­tion among lo­cal and na­tional elected of­fi­cials, earn­ing the en­mity of many in Ro­ma­nia’s po­lit­i­cal class and prompt­ing crit­ics to ac­cuse it of abus­ing its power.

Be­fore Kovesi’s sack­ing, thou­sands of protesters took to the streets in sup­port of her. There have also been lon­grun­ning waves of protests against ju­di­cial re­forms, which at their peak in Fe­bru­ary 2017 drew an es­ti­mated half a mil­lion peo­ple na­tion­wide.

Pho­to­graph: Daniel Mi­hailescu/AFP/Getty Images

A laser mes­sage spells out “Jos Gu­ver­nul” (down with the gov­ern­ment) in front of the gov­ern­ment’s head­quar­ters in Bucharest.

Pho­to­graph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

Thou­sands protested for a sec­ond daystraight in Bucharest.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.