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Riots expose roots of anger on EU's edges
Sun Jan 18, 2009 9:00pm EST
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By Patrick Lannin
RIGA (Reuters) - Standing in the X-ray room of the gleaming private clinic he opened last year, Leons Platacis is an incongruous champion for youths who rioted in Latvia last week, part of a wave of European protests.
The Latvian businessman, who set up the clinic with his doctor wife, said it is managing to grow despite increasingly cautious banks, whose refusal to lend created a cash squeeze that has forced him to lay off five of his 20 staff.
But he is frustrated. Not only with the bankers -- now mainly the offshoots of large Scandinavian parents -- but also the government of the Baltic state, forced last year to accept a 7.5 billion euro ($9.94 billion) IMF and EU rescue package.
Platacis and others like him in European Union countries from Greece to Bulgaria show how the economic crisis has dashed hopes for prosperity among the middle-classes and young people, compounding resentment of governments already exposed by perceived nepotism, arrogance and corruption.
"We now have a situation like at the end of the Soviet period," he told Reuters, gesticulating as nurses outside escorted visitors along the freshly decorated hallways.
"It is them and us. We are not a united society with a clear vision and leaders we can trust."
The Latvian capital was one of several where youths last week went on the rampage after a peaceful protest against the center-right government, in power since the start of 2008.
Platacis said he disagreed with their actions but understood their motives.
Riots in the Bulgarian capital on Wednesday followed Latvia's on Tuesday, and on Friday police in Lithuania used tear gas as people threw stones and bottles at parliament to protest against higher taxes and lower spending.
As in Greece, where two weeks of protests in December forced a government reshuffle, the street demonstrations have been mainly driven by young people angered by entrenched systems which seem to deny them any prospect of progress.
"We protest because we do not like the life in the country, we do not like the government, the whole bureaucracy," said Oksana Cherkishyan, 20, a student in Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member and according to Transparency International its most corrupt.
Others are still hoping migration will boost their chances of employment: "My job prospects here are not too good -- more likely abroad," said psychology student Orsolya Voros, 20, in Hungary.
High youth unemployment was a main driver for unrest in Greece, initially sparked by the police shooting of a youth in a traditionally rowdy Athens suburb.
General unemployment runs just above the EU average at 7.4 percent in Greece, but the figure is 21.2 percent for the 15-24 age group and 10.5 percent for those aged 25-34.
"The explosion conceals a compressed desperation," wrote Greek psychology professor Fotini Tsalikoglou in left-leaning newspaper Ta Nea on December 8. "Many young people live with the unbearable knowledge that there is no future." Continued...
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