Romanian Miners’ Protest Forces Premier to Resign : Unrest: Demonstrations continue against economic reforms. Roman calls the violence a Communist coup.
Prime Minister Petre Roman resigned Thursday, bowing to violent protests against his economic reforms. But the move failed to stop chaotic demonstrations by thousands of enraged miners and other citizens, who demanded that Romania’s president also step down.
By nightfall, the protests threatened to blow up into a major confrontation between the ruling National Salvation Front, which took power two years ago, and angry workers in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The government, in a communique carried late Thursday by state radio and TV, said the Defense Ministry was issuing live ammunition to units guarding public buildings.
Roman announced his resignation and called the violence a “Communist coup.” He said he will stay in office until law and order are restored.
The miners seek “the dissolution of all the democratic institutions in this country,” he told the French TV network TF-1. “Romania has broken with communism for too short a time for the old structures and mentalities to be able to disappear.”
Roman became the first of Eastern Europe’s post-Communist leaders to fall victim to a backlash against reforms that countries across the region are imposing to treat decades of Communist malaise.
The government’s Western-backed reforms have sliced standards of living, widened the gap between rich and poor and sent inflation soaring to 170%.
Thousands of miners, many wielding iron bars and clubs, arrived Thursday in Bucharest on trains they commandeered in central Romania to join the 4,000 colleagues who came a day earlier.
“Don’t be afraid, (President Ion) Iliescu will fall,” jubilant miners shouted from captured trucks they drove through the city.
Three died in riots Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon, the number of injured had climbed to 284, the state news agency Rompres said, without elaborating.
In a statement, the ruling National Salvation Front called on the army and Interior Ministry to restore order, urged Iliescu to summon the country’s Supreme Defense Council and appealed to Romanians to stay home.
Iliescu, in a speech broadcast live on Romanian radio and TV, said consultations have begun on a new government. Apparently, Roman’s entire government was resigning with him.
Later, Parliament passed a resolution creating a commission to investigate the country’s economic and social problems, as well as those related to miners’ living conditions, Rompres said.
Outside Parliament, which was stormed and vandalized Wednesday, angry miners loudly demanded Iliescu’s resignation.
Less than a third of the demonstrators were helmeted miners, with most appearing to be enraged residents of Bucharest.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people later headed to the television center, the scene of fierce fighting during the December, 1989, revolution that ousted Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Heavy smoke from exploding tear-gas grenades billowed over the thousands of protesters swarming the streets around the building.
Gunshots could be heard Thursday night around the fenced-off TV center, which was guarded by several hundred soldiers in riot gear. But it was not clear where the shots originated or who they were aimed at.
The current protests marked the most serious crisis for Romania since June, 1990, when thousands of miners went on a three-day rampage around Bucharest that left six dead. Then, it was Iliescu who had summoned the miners to defend him against anti-government protesters.