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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 12:34 GMT

World: Europe

Romanian miners' leader seized

Miron Cozma: Faces 18 years in jail for 1991 protest march

Romanian security forces have captured the convicted miners' leader, Miron Cozma, who was spearheading a protest march of thousands of miners onto the capital.

He was seized by an anti-terrorism brigade in Slatina, southwest of Bucharest, and was being transferred to the capital by helicopter, Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu was quoted as saying.

[ image: January protest over wages and pit closures - also led by Mr Cozma]
January protest over wages and pit closures - also led by Mr Cozma
Earlier on Wednesday, security forces clashed with some 5,000 miners, and dispersed most of the crowd.

"[Mr] Cozma fled like a coward leaving his men at the most difficult time," said Defense Minister Victor Babiuc in a statement.

Mr Cozma was sentenced to 18 years in jail by the Romanian Supreme Court on Monday, for his part in instigating riots in 1991 that overthrew the pro-reform government of Petre Roman.

Appeal for support

The BBC's Peter Biles: "More than 150 of Mr Cozma's supporters were also arrested"
Mr Cozma did not appear at the trial but appealed to his supporters to protect him from arrest after the sentence was announced.

"If we have to go to Bucharest, we will," he told a private Romanian television station from an unidentified location on Tuesday.

[ image: Mr Cozma's appeal for support prompted latest march]
Mr Cozma's appeal for support prompted latest march
Armed with clubs, chains and axes, Mr Cozma's followers set out on a march on Bucharest, but were stopped by security forces some 160 km west of the capital.

"The miners have been defeated," a police officer said after two hours of fierce clashes in the early hours of Wednesday, near the village of Stoenesti. Several policemen were reported to be injured in the fighting.

The clashes occurred as the miners were trying to force their way past a roadblock on a bridge. Security forces were using tear gas and rubber bullets, and many of the buses in which the miners had travelled, and several private cars, were also destroyed.

Marching man

In January, Mr Cozma led an aborted miners' march on Bucharest during a dispute over wages and planned pit closures.

The protest only ended after he held personal negotiations with premier Radu Vasile.

He has not yet been charged with any offences over that march, in which more than 100 people, mostly police, were injured.

But Mr Cozma had already been jailed for 18 months for leading the 1991 miners' march. He was released in June 1998.

Last Monday, he he was convicted on charges of illegal possession of arms and undermining state authority, a judicial source said.

The union chief, who has been nicknamed "public enemy number one", has been facing legal action in three other cases including the 1991 accusations.

In particular, he has been accused of attacking a policeman and a journalist in 1994.

Following the recent march, Mr Cozma was kicked out of the far-right Romania Mare Party (PRM), which considered that he had tarnished its image.

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