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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 01:24 GMT

World: Europe

Romanian miners march to brink

There have been several days of clashes between miners and police

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has warned that he will declare a state of emergency if thousands of protesting coal miners continue to march on the capital Bucharest.

Miners defy police and continue to march to Bucharest
Speaking after the miners broke through a police line, the president set a deadline of 1200GMT for the protesters to turn back.

The miners are demanding higher wages and an end to pit closures.

A state of emergency would allow the government to bring troops on to the streets to quell unrest.

Mr Constantinescu said the country had "no future" if the miners continued their violent campaign.

On Thursday, the demonstrators fought their way past police barricades near Costesti, leaving them less than 200km from the capital.

It was the second time in a week they had forced their way through police lines. They spent the night in Rimnicu Vilcea, where their supporters, and their leader, Miron Cozma, were expected to join the protest.

There are signs that the protest is spreading to other towns.

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The continued march has already led to the sacking of Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu.

His replacement, Constantin Dudu Ionescu, in turn fired both the head of the police force responsible for maintaining public order and the general who led security forces in the two failed attempts to contain the miners.

"We are in exceptional circumstances in which the existence of the state itself is in question," Mr Ionescu said.

Police hostages

Romanian MP Zsolt Szilagyi: "The miners' movement is politically manipulated"
The miners - armed with rocks, Molatov cocktails, clubs and shovels - fought their way past the police blockade, which had been reinforced by piles of concrete slabs.

Riot police using tear gas repulsed the first attempt to breach their lines, but the miners, dividing into almost military formations, managed to work their way around the barricade, and rained rocks on the security forces from the surrounding hills.

More than 100 police were injured. They were left in chaos and withdrew in the resulting confusion. There were reports of some officers being taken hostage.

Strike banned

The miners - already paid twice as much as most Romanians - are demanding wage rises of 35% and a reversal of pit closures.

Last week, a local court banned a strike by 10,000 miners in the central Jiu Valley coal region, but they refused to return to work.

Speaking before he was sacked, the interior minister said if the miners reached the capital it would be tantamount to a return to dictatorship. He was referring to events in 1990 and 1991 when the miners stormed the capital and brought down the government.

Left-wing opposition parties have openly supported the miners, blaming the economic policies of the government.

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