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PM warns violence could destabilize Romania

A man walks by a fire burning in University Square, the scene of the first anti-communist protests in 1989, in Bucharest, Romania, early Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. Romania's government called an emergency meeting late Sunday to discuss violent protests that show no sign of abating after demonstrators angry about austerity measures hurled stones and firebombs at police. At least six people were injured. A man walks by a fire burning in University Square, the scene of the first anti-communist protests in 1989, in Bucharest, Romania, early Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. Romania's government called an emergency meeting late Sunday to discuss violent protests that show no sign of abating after demonstrators angry about austerity measures hurled stones and firebombs at police. At least six people were injured. (AP Photo/Octav Ganea)
By Alina Wolfe Murray
Associated Press / January 16, 2012
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BUCHAREST, Romania—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.

Interior minister Traian Igas said Monday that around 8,700 people attended weekend demonstrations around the country, but only in Bucharest did the protests turn violent, when -- according to interior ministry officials -- fans of football clubs infiltrated the demonstrations and then wreaked havoc in the city.

Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu said the windows of shops, banks and bus stations were smashed, and street lights vandalized.

Prime Minister Emil Boc on Monday called the violence "unacceptable," and said it "cannot be tolerated." He promised, however, that a controversial health law that sparked the protests will be redrafted.

Boc urged Romanians to understand that tough austerity measures were needed to avoid a default. "We understand the hardships Romanians are facing ... The crisis has been harsher than we imagined," he said.

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.

Alis Grasu of Bucharest's ambulance services said 59 people suffered injuries during the disturbances, 23 were briefly hospitalized and three are still in the hospital.

Police official Aurel Moise said about 250 people were fined for their conduct and 36 will be investigated. He said a contingent of the violent protesters were football fans, suggesting that they had come to cause trouble, rather than take part in the protest.

Authorities urged peaceful protesters to distance themselves from troublemakers at future marches.

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