Thursday, January 19, 2012

Romanian Media Groups Express Concern Over Police Targeting Of Journalists


BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Demonstrations against Romania's harsh austerity measures took place across the country again on Wednesday, with protesters demanding the government's resignation.

In Strasbourg, France, Martin Schulz, the newly elected chief of the European Parliament, said Romanian officials should take urgent economic action to improve the public's living standards. He said governments in all countries, but especially hard-hit Romania, should listen to protesters and their grievances.

A total of about 2,000 people, including 300 in Bucharest, were taking part Wednesday's peaceful demonstrations in cities across Romania — as they now have for seven days in a row.

Opposition leaders urged Prime Minister Emil Boc to fire his interior minister and begin talks on early elections to replace his government. Boc rejected both demands, saying early elections are not justified because Romania has a ballot scheduled next fall.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year euro20 billion ($27.5 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank as its economy shrank by 7.1 percent. It imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25 percent and increasing taxes. Anger has mounted over the wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

In another development Wednesday, a media organization urged Romanian authorities to identify and prosecute protesters and policemen who reportedly attacked nine journalists during previous violent anti-government demonstrations.

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization said that reporters were assaulted while covering protests against the austerity measures that degenerated into violence in Bucharest on Sunday and Monday. At least 59 people were injured during the disturbances.

The media organization said the exact number of attacked journalists is not known. However, it mentioned nine cases of journalists and other media employees who were either hit by stones and Molotov cocktails hurled by protesters or allegedly detained or beaten by riot police.

The Romanian Press Club, which represents journalists in Romania, expressed concern over "some excessive actions" by police who allegedly targeted journalists. Chairwoman Indira Crasnea said Wednesday the club is aware of up to five cases of journalists who were attacked in the first days of the protest when the police were "tougher" in their handling of violent demonstrators.

The opposition said it will organize another protest march on Thursday.

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AP writer Alison Mutler contributed from Bucharest.

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