Iceland's leaders fall (on yogurt?) and its government spoils

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The global financial collapse appears to have brought down Iceland's government.

The country's minister of business affairs resigned Sunday, two days after the prime minister agreed to protesters' demands for new elections (two years ahead of schedule).

As the Monitor's Colin Woodard wrote last week, the protesters are furious over Iceland’s recent plunge from the world’s fourth richest nation – and the best in the world to live in, according to the United Nations – to global financial crisis roadkill. Its banks are ruined, the currency devastated, and one of the country’s closest allies recently named it a terrorist state.

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"This has been very hard for the nation," protester Rosa Eyvindardottir told Woodard.

Scandinavians might be known for their stoicism, but Icelanders have hardly stayed quiet about their feelings, with upwards of 7,000 people turning out for weekend protests. This is the equivalent of about 7 million residents of the US.

Think that the Obama inauguration crowds were huge? Picture four times as many people – or every single person from Delaware, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C. – turning up on the National Mall.

Picture these 7 million folks shouting, screaming, and red-faced with rage.

Imagine them hurling eggs, bottles, and rocks at politicians. And flinging yogurt on the walls of the US Capitol.

Last week, the equivalent happened in Iceland. Comparing Iceland with the US might be akin to comparing puffins with eagles, but political observers say the demonstrations in Iceland were astonishing both in their anger and their size. To wit: When the protests turned to riots, police responded with tear gas – its first use in Iceland in 60 years.

Although some reports are now claiming Iceland's government to be the first major political victim of the global financial crisis, more accurately, that distinction should be given to Belgium, where the prime minister resigned at the end of last year.

The outlook for Iceland seems fairly gloomy right now – its 304,000 residents will somehow have to pay off huge debts amassed by recently nationalized banks. In the second part of his series of stories last week about the crisis facing Iceland, Woodard wrote that Icelanders insist they won't let the crisis rob them of their dignity, nor will they allow the unemployed to fall between the glacier cracks.

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