Miners' leader held after bloody clashes

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THE MAN who nearly brought Romania to its knees last month was arrested yesterday after clashes between riot police and coal miners that left one miner dead, dozens injured and 350 arrested.

The arrest of the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, came as he and 2,000 comrades headed to the capital, Bucharest, to protest against an 18-year sentence imposed on him this week for his role in a violent 1991 miners' protest. The Justice Minister, Valeriu Stoica, said: "It is an act of justice. I am glad police managed to apply the [court's] sentence."

Thousands of striking miners marched on Bucharest last month in protest against the closure of mines and falling standards of living. The miners' march was stopped only after President Emil Constantinescu sent in tanks and troops to halt their advance.

Cozma unsuccessfully resisted officers who arrested him yesterday after the car he was in stopped for petrol near Caracal, 80 miles from Bucharest, the mayor of Caracal, Gheorghe Anghel, was quoted as saying by Rompres news agency.

The miners began their latest protest after Cozma was sentenced in absentia on Monday for leading the 1991 march. He said the sentence, increased from 18 months, was politically orchestrated.

In clashes that lasted three hours in the village of Stoenesti, 90 miles from Bucharest, 2,000 riot police beat miners with clubs, fired rubber bullets and threw tear-gas grenades, leaving dozens injured. Miners attacked officers with chains, axes and sticks, the Interior Ministry said.

Police arrested 350 miners who were trying to reach the capital in 40 buses, national radio reported. Other miners fled and police troops were combing the area.

The Interior Minister said he did not expect any more outbreaks of violence from miners. Police would use real bullets in future protests, said Anghel Andreescu, the head of one police department.

Mr Constantinescu thanked police and troops for preventing the miners from reaching Bucharest and for "defending a state where the law is respected".