Soldiers Protest of Service Extension
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ The army announced Tuesday that military service will be extended by two months partly for security during the May elections, and about 1,000 Romanian soldiers responded with a noisy protest.
″The presence of experienced soldiers is necessary so that preparations for the coming elections can go smoothly,″ Maj. Gen. Constantin Stefanescu said on national television.
According to a decree by the ruling Council of National Unity, the regular 12-month service will be temporarily lengthened by ″at most two months.″
″The Romanian army has proved to be a factor of stability in the country,″ said the decree, announced on television.
″The situation in some parts of Romania has shown that measures are necessary for increasing the combat readiness of the army,″ it added.
It was a reference to riots involving Romanians and ethnic Hungarians last week in Transylvania that killed seven and injured hundreds.
A short time after the televised announcement, soldiers bearing signs reading ″We Don’t Want to be Mocked″ and ″We Want the Decree Revoked″ gathered in front of the government building.
Several hundred heavily armed guards surrounded the complex and watched as the soldiers chanted, ″We don’t want to be lied to any longer.″
Groups of soldiers marched in the night through the capital from their barracks on the outskirts of the city to join their comrades. They were greeted with loud cheers and bearhugs when they reached the square.
The army played a decisive role in December’s overthrow of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and troops have been used repeatedly since to maintain law and order and to prevent political and ethnic unrest.
Thousands of soldiers were deployed last week in the Transylvanian city of Tigru Mures to stop fighting between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians.
But morale in the armed forces has been reported to be low in recent months, and protesters in Bucharest complained that conditions for the ordinary soldiers were ″very poor.″
″We are used as unpaid workers, with very little food and no protective measures,″ said a corporal carrying a sign that said: ″Specialized Instruction Means Forced Labor.″
During Ceausescu’s rule, much of the army was engaged in building his grandiose projects in Bucharest and elsewhere.
The term of military service, which is compulsory in Romania, was shortened from 16 months to 12 months after the December revolution.