Romania to probe alleged police violence at protest

People shout slogans during an anti government protest in front of the Government headquarters in Bucharest on August 12, 2018. Thousands gathered Sunday in Romania's capital for a third night of protest against the government after Friday's mass demonstration left hundreds injured. Singing the national anthem and waving national flags, protesters again amassed at Victory Square in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel MIHAILESCU

Romania has opened an enquiry into alleged police violence at a mass anti-corruption protest against the leftwing government last week where hundreds were injured, military prosecutors said Monday.

Around 80,000 people — many of them Romanians living abroad — demonstrated late Friday in Bucharest, accusing the government of corruption and urging it to resign.

Police used water cannon, tear gas, pepper spray and batons to disperse the crowd. More than 450 people, including 30 police, were hurt and around 30 arrested, leading to widespread criticism.

Smaller protests followed Saturday and Sunday without any violence, and another one was expected late Monday.

“Until now we have received about 30 complaints, and my colleagues are interviewing those who were injured,” prosecutor Ionel Corbu said, adding “all those suspected to have acted against the law” will be questioned.

Prosecutors will also analyse video recordings of the security forces, the media and demonstrators.

The Israeli Embassy on Monday said that four of its citizens were pulled out of a taxi by security forces and beaten although they did not take part in the protest and showed their passports.

“The incident is inacceptable and extremely serious. The Israeli tourists who had suffered due to the brutal intervention will file a penal complain against the aggressors,” the embassy said in a statement.

Police have said they responded in a “gradual and proportionate” manner to violence allegedly perpetrated by dozens of football hooligans who tried to break the police cordon and threw rocks and water bottles at security forces.

Romania’s centre-right President Klaus Iohannis, a government critic, has condemned “the brutal intervention of the police”. He said it was disproportionate to the attitude of most demonstrators and accused the government of “bringing the country into chaos and disorder”.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country currently holds the EU rotating presidency, has also criticised the clashes, which saw a cameraman for Austria’s public broadcaster injured.

Romania has seen frequent protests in the last year and a half though violence is rare.

In the last 15 years, around four million people have left the country — one of the European Union’s poorest and most corruption-plagued member states with an average monthly wage of just 520 euros ($590).

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