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Romania: Miners' Leader Sentenced To 18 Years In Prison

Bucharest, 15 February 1999 (RFE/RL) - Romania's Supreme Court today sentenced miners' leader Miron Cozma to 18 years in prison for leading violent riots in the capital Bucharest in 1991 which toppled the government. The Supreme Court handed down the sentence after convicting Cozma of illegally possessing firearms, undermining state authority and jeopardizing railway traffic. The decision comes just three weeks after Cozma led a new protest by thousands of miners who twice broke through police cordons while threatening to advance on Bucharest.

The decision overturns an earlier lower court ruling in the case that had reduced the charges to public disorder. Today's verdict cannot be appealed.

The most recent protests were defused only after the government agreed not to shut two unprofitable Jiu Valley mines scheduled for closure, and agreed to a 35 percent salary increase for the miners. That deal has yet to be finalized because it calls on miners to agree on restructuring principles together with the region's state mining company.

Miners from the Jiu Valley descended on Bucharest four times in the aftermath of the fall of communism in 1989. They attacked public buildings and beat residents on two occasions in 1990 and 1991.

Earlier today, Cozma was in the central Romanian town of Petrosani where he had planned to attend talks between his union and the industry ministry. However, those talks have been postponed until tomorrow. RFE/RL's correspondent in Petrosani reports that Cozma left the city in his own car for an unknown location.

Police in Petrosani have not yet received any order to arrest Cozma, who did not offer any immediate public comment on today's verdict.