A protester throws stones at police in Bucharest. Photo: 15 January 2012
Main clashes took place near Bucharest’s University Square

Romania’s government has called an emergency meeting after growing violent protests against austerity cuts.

It comes as dozens of people were injured for the second day running in clashes between demonstrators and riot police in the capital Bucharest.

The rallies in Romania began four days ago to support an official who had quit in protest against health care reforms.

But the protests have since widened to include general discontent with the government’s policies.

The alliance of opposition parties has called for early elections.

Unlikely catalyst

On Sunday, at least 13 people were injured in Bucharest near University Square – the venue of Saturday’s violence.

Demonstrators threw stones at riot police, who again responded by firing tear gas.

A number of people were arrested, with officials saying that most of the trouble makers were young football fans.

Raed Arafat. Photo: 2011 Raed Arafat resigned as deputy health minister last Tuesday

The unlikely catalyst for the latest demonstrations was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat.

The Palestinian-born doctor came to Romania in the 1980s, and is a well-known and much-liked figure, due to the practical changes he made to improve the emergency services, the BBC’s Nick Thorpe reports.

Dr Arafat stepped down as deputy health minister last Tuesday, after a series of public attacks against him by President Traian Basescu, our correspondent adds.

Dr Arafat opposed government measures to partially privatise Romania’s shaky health care system.

President Basescu later announced that he was scrapping the unpopular reform, but that has failed to soothe the demonstrators’ anger, our correspondent says.

He says they are now calling for Mr Basescu to resign and hold early elections.

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