500 Romanians endure snowy weather to protest 

More than 500 Romanians endured snowy weather in the capital to protest Saturday for the ninth day against President Traian Basescu and the government, calling for their resignation.

Waving a hanged puppet representing the president, protesters shouted "Romania, wake up!" and "Basescu and his gang are stealing the state's money."

One banner read: "Rain, storm or snow, we'll stay here, we won't bow."

People say they've had enough of austerity measures that have left ordinary people impoverished, while they say officials waste public money and appear to get wealthier.

In 2009, with its economy shrinking by 7.1 percent, Romania took a two-year €20 billion ($27.5 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank.

Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25 percent and increasing taxes. Anger has mounted over the wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and perceived widespread corruption. Many Romanians have also become disenchanted with their once-popular president, saying he is too outspoken and has grown increasingly argumentative, which is inappropriate for his office.

Most protests so far have been peaceful, but at times clashes between riot police and some groups of demonstrators have turned violent, with more than 60 injured.

Some blame riot police for beating people for no reason, but police said they intervened when protesters attacked them. Prosecutors said four police officers are being investigated for their conduct during protests.

One 25-year-old protester, who identified himself as Mircea, said policemen hit him with truncheons Jan. 15, when the most serious clashes happened.

"I was coming toward the demonstration and policemen stopped me and hit me," he said. "I am protesting because I am fed up with the situation... After 22 years (since the anti-communist revolt) we've gone backward," he said.

Many in Bucharest's University Square refer to the anti-communist revolution that toppled the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The square — a focal point of recent demonstrations — was also a centerpiece of the 1989 revolution, in which more than 1,000 were killed.

"It is not for you that our heroes died," people chanted, addressing their leaders.

The Interior Ministry said around 3,000 protested on Saturday across the country.

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