Using tear gas and water cannon Romanian police violently put down a peaceful protest in the capital Bucharest on August 10, the largest so far in a long-running series of demonstrations against the government. More than 250 people, including children, were injured badly enough to require medical attention.
One of the more seriously injured was the young daughter of Vlad Alexandrescu, a senator for the opposition USR, who was rendered unconscious by tear gas.
“She was out of sight for just a few seconds and then we suddenly saw her motionless on a stretcher, being put into an ambulance,” wrote Mr Alexandrescu on Facebook “What kind of government gasses its own people?”, he added.
The government, controlled by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) has yet to comment on the violence.
Throughout the day thousands of people gathered in Piaţa Victoriei, the large public square in front of the government building in Bucharest. By 9pm more than 100,000 people were present, despite the authorities closing Piaţa Victoriei metro station in order to prevent protesters assembling.
The vast majority of those present were families with children, both local residents and members of Romania’s diaspora, which organised the protest. The protest was peaceful and no attempt was made to provoke the forces of law and order. Water cannons were first used around 9:30pm, followed shortly afterwards by tear gas, which was released all over the square, amongst children and the elderly. I was forced to move my own daughter, aged 11, away from the centre of the square.
At approximately 11pm, the police charged the protesters and fired repeated rounds of tear gas and water cannon in order to clear the square.
Romania’s diaspora, currently thought to number around 3.4 million people – more than 17 per cent of the country’s total population – has long been opposed to the PSD. In 2014, in order to ensure victory for its candidate Victor Ponta in that year’s presidential election, the PSD-controlled foreign ministry attempted to prevent many members of the diaspora voting. The tactic backfired: while tens of thousands of Romanians living abroad were indeed unable to vote, viral images of long queues outside Romanian embassies and consulates compelled relatives at home to vote for Ponta’s opponent, Klaus Iohannis. Iohannis comfortably won.
The president has condemned the violent reaction of the authorities.
“In a democracy everyone has the right to protest,” he said in a statement. “I vehemently condemn the violence of the forces of order, which was entirely disproportionate to the peaceful way in which the majority of those in Piaţa Victoriei were demonstrating. The minister of the interior needs to urgently explain what happened tonight.”
The diaspora is also one of the largest foreign investors in Romania: according to the International Monetary Fund, in 2017 Romanians living abroad sent home 4.26 billion euros in remittances, only slightly less than the 4.58 billion euros the country attracted in foreign direct investment (FDI).