Romanian foreign minister fired for comments on protesters

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi has been dismissed after he called protesters "inept and violent slum dwellers."

Story highlights

  • The foreign minister called anti-government protesters "inept and violent slum dwellers"
  • Protests have been going on in Romania for 11 days and are likely to continue
  • Economic problems, unemployment and corruption are cited by protesters
  • Protesters call on Romania's president and the government to step down
Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc announced Monday that he dismissed the country's foreign minister because of remarks the minister made about anti-government protesters.
Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi called protesters "inept and violent slum dwellers," and compared them to miners who took to the streets of Romania in the 1990s and used violence to try to influence political decisions. Boc's announcement was made during a special parliamentary session held by the government and opposition leaders on the situation in Romania following 11 days of protests.
On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators continued to protest in Bucharest and other cities around the country, but no major violence was reported. More protests are expected in coming days.
Protesters have called on President Traian Basescu to step down and for the government to resign.
Demonstrators, who carry banners reading, "What are we going to eat, Basescu?" "Down with the Government" and "Liberty," say they are living in poor conditions, have no jobs and are struggling to face a corrupted system.
People blame the government for imposing harsh austerity measures after the country received 20 billion euros from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.
Last week, the United States called on the Romanian people and leaders to avoid any violence during the anti-government protests.
"What we would say to Romania and Romanians is the same thing that we say to others around the world and what we said to Greece and Greeks at the time, which is that we support the right of people around the world to protest and express their views peacefully, but we call on both protestors and authorities to refrain from any violence," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Boc announced the dismissal of his foreign minister by saying, "I apologize for the statements that some of my colleagues recently made. I have decided to dismiss the foreign minister, Teodor Baconschi. I also forwarded a proposal to the president to replace him, following the comments he made on the protesters."
Baconschi, a member of Romania's Liberal- Democrat party, was appointed foreign minister in 2009, after being Romania's ambassador to the Vatican and France.
Opposition leaders continued Monday to ask for early elections and the government's resignation during the special parliamentary session. Boc refused the opposition proposals, saying, "Our main priority now is to maintain the country's credibility and economic stability."
Government leaders asked for the special parliamentary session involving opposition leaders to continue on Tuesday, but the opposition leaders refused.
Opposition leader Victor Ponta of the Social Democrats called on Basescu to hold a speech in parliament on the country's current situation and his government's plans. So far, Basescu has not commented publicly on the protests.
Ponta declared: "Our suggestion is to make a political agreement for early elections -- an agreement which states that we are ready to resign from parliament. The opposition (members of parliament) are ready to ask for people's vote. We are not giving up. The opposition MPs won't be in the parliament in February."
Opposition liberal leader Crin Antonescu announced his party members will resign from parliament until early elections are held. He called on his opposition partners to do the same.
Protesters were joined Monday by a Romanian army officer who said he was showing his support for demonstrators in the streets.
"I am here to express my public disagreement for the way in which these ordinary people were insulted," Lt. Alexandru Gheorghe said.
"My brothers, my mother, my father, my grandparents, they have all gathered here. I saw old people beaten and said to myself that we, the officers, who could die tomorrow in a mission in Afghanistan, must have the courage to fight and tell the truth here in our country."
The officer added, "I am not against President Basescu. Legally speaking, he is my supreme leader."