Police clash with protesters in #Romania

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Protesters clash with riot police on University Square in Bucharest on January 14, 2012 during a protest against the government’s austerity program and Romanian President Traian Basescu

Romanian police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters during an anti-government rally, the third consecutive day of demonstrations against austerity cuts and falling living standards.

The protests were the most serious since President Traian Basescu came to power in 2004 and were the result of pent-up frustration against public wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year 20 billion euro loan from the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the World Bank, as its economy shrank by 7.1%.

Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25% and increasing taxes.

The unlikely catalyst for the protests, however, was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat, a Palestinian with Romanian citizenship who opposed health reforms proposed by the government.

On Friday, Mr Basescu told the government to scrap the reforms, but public anger had already risen against Mr Basescu and the government.

Widespread support for Mr Arafat has led commentators drawing parallels with ethnic Hungarian Laszlo Toekes, whose opposition to late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 was the spark for the anti-communist revolt.

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