Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Romanian health official who resignation sparked days of violent protests returns to job

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s prime minister said Tuesday that a popular health official whose resignation sparked days of sometimes violent protests across the country will return to his job, in what was seen as a step to defuse widespread public anger at the government.

Premier Emil Boc said Raed Arafat — who has publicly clashed with the government over a controversial law allowing for some privatization of emergency services — will return to his Heath Ministry post later Tuesday and will be part of a team drafting a new health care law.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in downtown Bucharest, Monday as Romania’s prime minister warned that violent protests that left 59 injured over the weekend could jeopardize stability and economic growth. Police on Sunday clashed with a small contingent of around 1,000 protesters in the capital, after four days of demonstrations against austerity measures turned violent. Tear gas and flares were used to repel demonstrators hurling stones and firebombs.

But as night fell Tuesday, about 200 anti-government protesters gathered in downtown Bucharest and yelled slogans such as “Resignation!” and “Down with Basescu!” referring to Romanian President Traian Basescu.

Protesters have raged for five days over austerity cuts and falling living standards. Protesters have gathered in freezing temperatures, chanting “Freedom!” and holding banners saying “Hunger and poverty have gripped Romania!” Authorities said that more than 10,500 people took part Monday.

Boc called Arafat “an expert and professional,” saying both sides wanted to resume working together. Arafat earlier met with Basescu.

Police said they fined 247 people, and 36 were charged with illegally carrying knives, vandalism or disturbing public order during Monday’s protests in Bucharest and other Romanian cities.

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