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15,000 Romanian Strikers Chant 'Down with government!'

Wed, 10/07/2009 - 4:11am
Alison Mutler, Associated Press Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Some 15,000 Romanian workers from all over the country protested low wages in the capital on Wednesday, rallying outside government headquarters to demand leaders do something to increase their pay.

Workers blew whistles, sounded ambulance sirens, yelled "unity, unity!" and "Down with the government!" The minority government is to face a confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday after its coalition partner the Social Democratic Party quit last week.

Some workers traveled overnight to take part in the protest, the biggest of recent years. Retiree Ana Mares, 74, also joined the rally. "A quarter of my pension goes on medicine. I can only eat meat once a week, and my daughter hasn't been paid for two months," she said.

Romania is mired in a deep recession and is dependent on a $17.1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to pay some public sector wages. Unions want a minimum monthly salary of 650 lei ($228) in 2010 and are demanding that the government scrap a measure forcing workers to take 10 unpaid vacation days this year.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, medical staff and other public workers staged a one-day strike Monday.

"We didn't cause this social crisis. We are not guilty for the economic and political crisis. ...(The government) is guilty for the social crisis," Aurel Cornea, who leads an education trade union, told the rally in Bucharest's biggest square, Piata Victoriei.

"We want decent wages," said Bucharest endocrinologist Dan Peretianu. "We don't agree with the way wages are scaled. Doctors earn too little," he said. Doctors with more than three decades of experience earn just €1,000 ($1,470) a month with overtime, he said.

Romania's economic downturn was made worse by political instability after the coalition government collapsed last week. Prime Minister Emil Boc leads a minority government which may not survive after the confidence vote.

President Traian Basescu acknowledged this weekend that there was no clear way for Romania out of the recession.

"Neither the government, myself nor the central bank can get Romania out of this crisis, because it's not possible. It's a global crisis and Romania is dependent on what happens globally," he said. Romania holds presidential elections on Nov. 22.

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