BUCHAREST - Romanian police on Saturday defended their use of force after an anti-government protest turned violent leaving 455 people, including three dozen riot police, needing medical treatment.
Marius Militaru, spokesman for Romania's riot police, said 70 people, including 11 riot police, were taken to hospitals the previous night, and police are pursuing charges against eight people.
There were no immediate reports of life-threatening injuries, but Militaru said a female colleague had been “brutally beaten” and has a suspected fractured spine.
He said officers were ordered by the Bucharest prefecture - government authorities in charge of the capital - to evacuate Victory Square late Friday after an hours-long protest in front of the government offices that drew tens of thousands of expatriate Romanians and local residents demanding the government's resignation.
Another police spokesman, Georgian Enache, said “the legitimate state violence,” was justified because protesters had been warned several times to leave the square.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to quell protesters. Some individuals lobbed rocks, bottles and smoke bombs at riot police. There were accusations that soccer hooligans had infiltrated the largely peaceful protest and deliberately committed acts of violence.
Some people sustained head and other injuries, while others were overcome by tear gas, authorities said.
Late Friday, President Klaus Iohannis, a critic of the left-wing government, condemned "the brutal intervention of riot police."
There was no immediate comment from the government.
Three journalists said they were also subjected to violence from the police.
Austria's public broadcaster ORF said Saturday a cameraman covering the protest for the post was hit by police with truncheons, while the presenter with him was shoved up against a wall. A journalist filming the rally Romania's Hotnews online news site said he was kicked and shoved by riot police.
Another protest was scheduled for Saturday evening.