From Iceland — Biggest Protest Meeting Yet – Commerce Minister Resigns – Central Bank Party Crashed

Biggest Protest Meeting Yet – Commerce Minister Resigns – Central Bank Party Crashed

Published January 26, 2009

Saturday saw protestors convene at Austurvöllur in record numbers for the 16th consecutive Saturday protest meeting, organised by grassroots group “Raddir fólksins”. Up to seven thousand citizens made their way to the peaceful protest meeting, where speakers urged the government to admit responsibility and resign under thunderous applause (videos below).

Despite loud speculations that yesterday’s protest meeting would prove a failure (due to extremely negative public reactions to protest organiser Hörður Torfason’s statements regarding PM Geir H. Haarde’s health – see here), the protest meeting drew a record crowd and sent a clear message to the nation’s government that an immediate change is called for.

After applauding the last speaker of the day, the protestors turned their attentions to the house of parliament, where a choir featuring amongst others police chief constable Geirjón Þórsson, performed a patriotic hymn.

A large portion of the crowd chose to stay behind after the song, banging on pots and pans and shouting the usual chants of “unfit government! Unfit government!” well into the afternoon. Despite high attendance numbers, the police’s “riot squad” remained out of sight for the entire afternoon, and no violent clashes have been reported. 

There were also reports of similar protest meetings in all corners of the country, with peaceful communions taking place in Akureyri, Mývatn and Ísafjörður. All of the protest meetings were carried out peacefully, and sent out a firm message to those in power.
After the day’s protests had died down, reports started trickling through that there was more still dissent action underway. Around 10 PM, protestors started gathering outside the Hilton Hotel Nordic in Reykjavík, where the Central Bank of Iceland’s annual celebratory feast was underway. When the Grapevine made it to the hotel at around 11 PM, a group of around 70 protestors had grouped behind the hotel’s ballroom, where the bank celebration was reportedly underway. Those present did their best to disturb the proceedings, banging on pots and pans in between cries of “unfit bank management!”
When the Grapevine sought entry to the hotel to confirm the meeting was underway, it was met by three uniformed police officers who announced that the hotel was closed for business tonight.
Word quickly got around that several of the partygoers were located in an outside smoking section of the hotel’s, at the back, so the protestors quickly made their way there and started infringing on the bankers’ right to smoke. The group then finally moved in front of the hotel, where it was stationed until 2 AM, when hotel staff agreed to escort the group’s representatives into the ballroom to confirm the party was over. Former PM and current head of the central bank, Davíð Oddsson, left the party in a rush around 11 PM, the Grapevine was told by protestors that witnessed his exit.

Judging by recent events, the protestors’ message seems to be heard loud and clear through Icelandic society. This morning Commerce Minister Björgvin G. Sigurðsson handed in his resignation after firing the head of the Icelandic Financial Supervision Institution. In a statement the minister said he acknowledged that Icelanders have lost faith in their government and political system and that by resigning, he was accepting his responsibility for that.
Sigurðsson also commented that he was not quitting politics, and that he would be running for the Social Democrat Alliance party in the upcoming elections.
Sigurðsson’s resignation sparked rampant speculation that the coalition government of the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance was about to burst. Despite a long day of meetings between the parties’ heads, no statement had been released at the time of writing.
Speaking of the time of writing, the Grapevine just now passed a convention of protestors grouped at the Central Bank of Iceland’s headquarters in downtown Reykjavík. Around 50 people were present as the Grapevine left the site of the impromptu demonstration, which consisted of the usual pot-banging, bonfire dancing and shouting that the bank’s officials should resign.

Read the Grapevine’s previous coverage of the series of protests here:
Protests At Parliament Continue Through The Night
Injuries Reported During Protests
Protest Action Mounts In Reykjavík
They Keep A-Bangin’
Seven Seconds
Most Icelanders Support The Protestors
 Elections In The Spring Become More Likely
Protests Continue – Elections This Spring – Haarde Resigns, Sort Of

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