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The Romanian Arafat's Resignation Triggers Violent Protests

A new health care law, since withdrawn, has triggered unrest in Romania.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/16/2012, 11:43 PM

Romania did not experience a bailout the way, Greece, Ireland and Portugal did. Nevertheless, one can say that the €20 billion loan granted Romania in 2009 ushered in the austerity that is now the rule in Western Europe. Wages were cut by 25% and government spending was slashed.

One of the worst hit sectors was healthcare. Financially strapped hospitals kept a short supply - or sometimes no supply - of essential antibiotics. People died if they had no resources to pay the hospitals. As salaries plummeted, doctors and nurses sought employment abroad.

A recent expose in the British press reported that the National Health Service was economizing by employing Bulgarian and Romanian health workers who did not have a rudimentary command of English, sometimes resulting in fatalities. Britain is still better off than Romaniam left with a glaring shortage of medical personnel. The irony was that according to the governmentm state healthcare spending last year totaled 24.3 billion lei ($7.10 billion) as compared with 11 billion lei in 2005.

The government decided that privatization was the answer and tried to introduce a health care bill to that effect. This prompted the resignation of the Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat (no relation to the terrorist chieftain Yasser Arafat). The Damascus born Arafat came to Romania to study during the Ceausescu era and stayed on becoming a Romanian citizen. He became an expert in mobile emergency service in collaboration with the fire department. Since he was responsible for one of the few things that improved in the field of health his resignation helped touch off riots.

Protesters, reinforced by football hooligans, brought back the Romanian flag with the center removed, That was the emblem of the anti-Ceausescu uprising.

The police responded with tear gas and flares as the crowds denounced Romanian President Traian Basescu, who backtracked from his support of the health care bill. The demonstrators called his government a mafioso government that had stolen their money and referred to him as a miserable dog.

Prime Minister Emil Bloc tried to talk sensibly to his countrymen and assured them that he felt their pain. He asked them to compare their situation with other European countries where the government has had to lay off many people. He warned that violent demonstrations would reflect on the country's economic stability and thus increase borrowing costs for Romania.