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Opposition: More Romanian protests being planned

From Liliana Ciobanu, for CNN
updated 11:55 AM EST, Mon January 16, 2012
Romanian police take position in the center of Bucharest on January 15, 2012 during a demonstration against austerity measures.
Romanian police take position in the center of Bucharest on January 15, 2012 during a demonstration against austerity measures.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An opposition coalition will meet to plan mass demonstrations
  • Romanian citizens have protested for four straight days
  • The opposition is unhappy with the government's response to the protests
  • Protesters decry government austerity measures and want the president ousted

Bucharest, Romania (CNN) -- An opposition coalition said Monday it is planning mass demonstrations in Romania, following four straight days of citizen protests against government austerity measures.

The coalition will meet to formalize protest plans, said Crin Antonescu, liberal opposition leader, adding the group disagrees with the way in which the government has handled the citizen demonstrations.

"The National Liberal Party asks the prime minister and his cabinet to resign immediately because they couldn't manage the violent protests held over the last couple of days in Bucharest," Antonescu said.

Thousands of citizens have gathered in the capital and 40 other Romanian cities, protesting government austerity measures and calling for the ouster of President Traian Basescu, as well as early elections.

In Bucharest, police had to use tear gas on demonstrators Sunday. As of Sunday night, more than 2,000 police officers were on the streets of the capital.

On Saturday, police and protesters clashed in Bucharest's University Square. Seventeen people were injured.

The demonstrations are the most serious since Basescu's election in 2004. Banks, shops and bus stations in the capital were vandalized, said Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu.

Nearly 250 people were fined for disturbing the peace, government officials said, and 36 will be investigated for alleged violent acts. Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown by protesters, the officials said.

So far, 59 people have been injured in the protests, with 26 treated at hospitals. The injured include 10 police officers and several journalists, officials said.

The protesters blocked traffic over the weekend, waving flags with the centers ripped out to symbolize the 1989 communist revolution. Others carried signs reading "Liberty" and "Down with President Basescu."

"The violence is unacceptable," said Prime Minister Emil Boc. "I ask Romanians to understand that the government took those austerity measures in order to avoid a crisis."

Interior Minister Traian Igas held an emergency meeting on Monday.

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

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.

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.

Protesters over the weekend blamed the government for their poor living standards.

"We have no financial security. My husband and I are retired but we are sharing our modest income with our children because they are jobless," said Rodica Ganea, who described being asked during hospital visits to pay for "medicines, syringes, bandages, everything ... I can't afford it."

"My kids are university graduates but they are jobless," said Marilena Salan, 64. "They are forced to break up their families, leave their kids home and go abroad to work. My nephews are growing up without their parents. This is unacceptable."

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