Monday, January 23, 2012

Romania PM sacks foreign minister for remarks on protest

BUCHAREST | Mon Jan 23, 2012

(Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc sacked Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi Monday for comments he made about anti-government protests, seeking to ease public anger and draw a line under more than a week of rallies.

Baconschi said last week that protesters who threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police were "inept and violent slum-dwellers" and compared them to miners who in the 1990s repeatedly descended on Bucharest and used violence to influence political developments.

"I have taken the decision to recall Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and have forwarded a proposal to the Romanian president to remove him from his functions for the comments he made," Boc told parliament.

"I present apologies from the parliamentary tribune to the Romanian public for these verbal errors."

Romania has suffered little of the unrest that has been seen in other countries hit by rising economic hardship. Most of the protests against austerity measures, now in their 11th day, have been peaceful, marked only by sporadic violence.

Demonstrators have gathered in central Bucharest to protest against President Traian Basescu and his close ally Boc, who cut salaries by a quarter and raised sales taxes to cut Romania's deficit and help rebuild the economy.

Those measures helped to keep an International Monetary Fund-led aid deal on track and maintained market confidence, but delayed recovery from a deep recession and has left Boc's PDL party trailing in opinion polls on 18 percent.

A rally of some 7,000 supporters of the opposition USL last week was Bucharest's biggest since 2010 and more protests are planned for this week, notably Tuesday when teachers and nurses are organizing a rally.

The USL, a fragile leftist alliance which has also committed itself to working with the IMF, has about 50 percent support in opinion polls and is well set to win a parliamentary election late this year.

"I totally agree with this decision," said USL co-leader Victor Ponta. "But Romanians had expected much more."

(Reporting by Sam Cage, Radu Marinas and Luiza Ilie; editing by Tim Pearce)

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