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Crisis meeting called over protests

Romania's government has called an emergency meeting to discuss violent protests that show no sign of abating after demonstrators angry about austerity measures hurled stones and firebombs at police.

At least six people were injured and more than 1,000 protesters clashed with police, who used tear gas and flares to repel demonstrators who blocked a main road in Bucharest. One man was briefly set ablaze during the chaos.

Interior Minister Traian Igas called an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis.

The protests, in their fourth day, are the most serious since President Traian Basescu came to power in 2004. They are the result of frustration against public wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes, cronyism in state institutions and widespread corruption.

Protesters roamed through the centre of the capital, and Mayor Sorin Oprescu called on them to refrain from acts of violence.

Protests began on Thursday in support of a health official who resigned because he opposed government health care reforms. Basescu withdrew the health care bill on Friday, but protests continued.

Anger has mainly been directed against the once-popular Romanian president. Basescu, 60, vowed to be a hands-on president when he came to power in 2004. He regularly gave interviews in supermarkets, was filmed dancing with his wife in restaurants and enjoyed a reputation as a man of the people.

The former ship captain, who is staunchly pro-American, has always relished a political fight. He was suspended by Parliament in 2007, but reinstated after a national referendum. He narrowly defeated former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana in the 2009 presidential runoff to be re-elected for a five-year mandate, which ends in 2014.

But Romanians have become disenchanted with the president, particularly with the economy in a downturn. Critics say he is too outspoken and has grown increasingly argumentative, which is inappropriate for his office.

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