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Romania: Miners Take Hostages; Interior Minister Resigns

Costesti, Romania; 21 January (RFE/RL) - Striking Romanian miners took about 40 policemen hostage today after pushing their way through a police barricade on a protest march to Bucharest. The miners, armed with stones and clubs, fought off police and broke through the barricade in the town of Costesti with the help of local residents. The police fired tear gas to try to stop the miners from advancing. Dozens of policemen and miners were reported injured in the clashes but the extent of their injuries is unknown. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu, who has been widely criticized for failing to stop the miners' advance, resigned and was replaced by Constantin Dudu Ionescu, a former deputy defense minister. The Supreme Council of Defense is due to meet tonight in an emergency session to discuss the situation. Our correspondent says a state of emergency may be declared. The miners are now demanding that the entire government resign. The miners are also calling for better wages and an end to pit closures.

President Emil Constantinescu said today that the "government must negotiate (with the miners) but reforms cannot be negotiated." Our correspondent says the policemen and the head of the local government administration were taken hostage by the miners. The official was later released.

The miners are still in Costesti at this hour and are expected to head next on foot to the town of Ramnicu Valcea, some 200 kilometers northwest of Bucharest. Negotiations with the government were to have taken place in that town, but the miners rejected them. Our correspondent says the government's negotiating team has returned by helicopter to Bucharest.