BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Over 600 people protested Wednesday in two northern Romanian cities against taxes on one of the nation's favorite tipples -- plum brandy.
Gheorghe Ciocan, president of the Union of Plum Brandy Producers, which organized the demonstrations in the cities of Baia Mare and Satu Mare, said the government should pass legislation to reduce taxes on thousands of small brandy producers.
Producers of palinca -- a highly distilled fruit brandy that is very popular in Romania -- said the government mistakenly placed their brew in the same category as liquor of grain origin, which is more heavily taxed.
Because of that, they pay $4.15 (2.93 euros) in taxes per liter -- which they say they cannot afford. Ciocan said the tax should be one-tenth of what it currently is.
Small producers and home brewers took part in the protest.
"Palinca is the traditional drink of Transylvania, it is our pride and should be our emblem for abroad," said Lucian Gruia, a former chemical engineer from Cluj, a northwestern Romanian city. "It is a clean drink, not like the highly doctored and fake brewages on the market," he added.
The fiery, clear brew, which can be 60 proof, is consumed as an aperitif, and is a staple drink at weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Some brandy makers say their production is unfairly taxed even when it is for home consumption. They also have to call in the authorities to unseal and seal back the distilling cauldrons every time they want to use them. The measure was introduced to prevent cheating and to make sure all taxes are paid.
Currently brandy producers get a 50 percent tax reduction on production of less than 50 liters (105 pints) per year. But they ask the government to allow them to produce for themselves without paying tax.
National news agency Agerpres says that on average a family living in rural northern Romania produces 100-200 liters (210-420 pints) of palinca for home consumption every year. About half of Romania's 22 million people live in villages.
Romania's Agriculture Ministry said in a press release Tuesday that authorities requested the European Commission to exempt from taxes production of up to 100 liters (210 pints) of plum brandy for home consumption.