25 Jan 2009

Protesters demand Iceland government quits now

7:57 am on 25 January 2009

Thousands of protesters called on Saturday for Iceland's government to step down immediately, dismissing the prime minister's promise to resign and call an early election.

Prime Minister Geir Haarde said on Friday he would quit under the cloud of the country's economic collapse and called for an election on 9 May, about two years earlier than scheduled.

Police estimated as many as 6,000 demonstrators stood on the square outside Iceland's Althing parliament, some carrying signs demanding "a new democracy".

It was the fifth straight day of protests, and the demonstration was a big as any since regular Saturday protests started in October.

Mr Haarde voiced "contempt" on Saturday for some of the actions by banks that triggered the country's financial crisis.

"I would like to use this opportunity to state my disbelief and contempt for some of the things that have been coming into the daylight in regards to the banks," he told national radio, but declined to comment on whether the actions of the banks had been criminal.

Mr Haarde has announced he is going abroad soon for surgery on a malignant tumour of the oesophagus.

Iceland, one of the richest countries in the world per capita in 2007, plunged into crisis in October when it fell victim to the global credit crunch. Its currency collapsed as its financial system imploded and unemployment in the island nation of 320,000 is surging.