Wed, Feb 08, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Government falls in Romania after austerity protests

AP, BUCHAREST

Romania’s government has collapsed following weeks of protests against austerity measures, the latest debt-stricken government in Europe to fall in the face of raising public anger over biting cuts.

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc said on Monday that he was resigning “to defuse political and social tension” and to make way for a new government.

Thousands of Romanians took to the streets last month to protest salary cuts, higher taxes and the widespread perception that the government was not interested in the public’s hardships in the nation of 22 million people.

Romanian President Traian Basescu quickly appointed Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu, the only Cabinet member unaffiliated with a political party, as interim prime minister to serve until a new government is approved.

Basescu also nominated Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, the head of Romania’s foreign intelligence service, as the country’s new prime minister and asked him to form a Cabinet. Parliament must approve Ungureanu and his ministers in 60 days, or the legislature will be dissolved and new elections held.

Boc’s party and his allies still have a majority in parliament, but opposition parties late on Monday called for Basescu to resign and for early parliamentary elections to be scheduled.

In a brief statement, Ungureanu, a former Romanian foreign minister, said his priority as prime minister would be “the economic and political stability of Romania.”

He is considered a loyal ally of Basescu and pro-US in his outlook, but the opposition said it opposes Ungureanu and that it will continue the boycott of parliament it began last week.

“We are not going anywhere with this new government,” said Crin Antonescu, head of the opposition Liberal Party.

Boc’s resignation came as Romania is starting to feel the effects of the widespread cuts that the government put in place in exchange for a 20 billion euro (US$26 billion) loan from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in 2009, to help pay salaries and pensions after its economy shrank by more than 7 percent.

In 2010, Boc’s government increased the sales tax from 19 percent to 24 percent and cut public workers’ salaries by a quarter to reduce the budget deficit.

Jeffrey Franks, the head of the IMF mission to Romania, said on Sunday he is confident that economic reforms the fund demanded in exchange for the loan would continue, even if the current government steps down.

On Monday, Boc urged the nation’s feuding politicians to elect a new government quickly.

He said he had taken “difficult decisions thinking about the future of Romania, not because I wanted to, but because I had to.”

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