Sun, Oct 03, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Icelandic politicians flee from angry protesters

The Guardian, LONDON

Protesters took to the streets of Reykjavik on Friday, forcing members of parliament (MP) to run away from the people they represent as renewed anger about the impact of the financial crisis erupted in Iceland.

The violent protest came amid growing fury at austerity measures being imposed across Europe. Disruption in more than a dozen countries this week included a national strike in Spain and a cement truck driven into the Irish parliament’s gates.

Witnesses said up to 2,000 people caused chaos at the state opening of the Icelandic parliament, with politicians forced to race to the back door of the building because of the large number of protesters at the front.

PRIME TARGETS

Eggs were said to have hit Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigureardottir, other MPs and the wife of Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.

“We have a difficult economic situation and this is something to be expected in a democratic country,” said Icelandic Minister of Economic Affairs Arni Pall -Arnason, who was caught up in the protests.

A UN agency has warned of growing social unrest because of a long “labor market recession” that could last until 2015. The International Labour Organization (ILO) revised down its forecast and estimated that 22 million new jobs were needed to return to levels before the banking crisis.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said social cohesion would be at risk, adding: “Governments should not have to choose between the demands of financial markets and the needs of their citizens.”

EUROPE PROTESTS

The protests came in same week as demonstrations in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Lithuania.

According to the writer Hallgrimur Helgason, anger has flared in Iceland because of the increasing numbers losing their homes and fury that only former Icelandic prime minister Geir Haarde has been charged with negligence over the financial crisis. The parliament voted this week to charge Haarde but not three others facing similar charges.

Iceland was at the center of the financial crisis and took out loans from the IMF and its Nordic neighbors after the collapse of the country’s three main banks in 2008.

“There is a realization that the IMF is going to wipe out our middle classes” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, one of three MPs to join the protesters.

Arnason said the government was convinced it was taking the correct measures to put the county on track for a balanced budget by 2012.

“We expect 3.2 percent growth next year and we believe unemployment has peaked at 8.3 percent,” he said.

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