EYKJAVIK, Iceland: Thousands of Icelanders marked the 90th anniversary of their nation's sovereignty with angry protest Monday, and several hundred stormed the central bank to demand the ouster of bankers they blame for the country's spectacular economic meltdown.
Tiny Iceland has seen its banks and currency collapse in just a few weeks while prices and unemployment soar — leaving a country regarded as a model of Scandinavian prosperity in a state of shock.
"The government played roulette and the whole nation has lost," writer Einar Mar Gudmundsson told a noisy but peaceful anti-government rally of several thousand people in downtown Reykjavik.
After the rally, hundreds of protesters stormed the headquarters of Sedlabanki, Iceland's central bank, demanding the sacking of its chief, David Oddsson.
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Anti-government protests have been growing larger and angrier since Iceland's three main banks collapsed in October under the weight of huge debts amassed during years of rapid economic growth.
Since then the value of the country's currency, the krona, has plummeted. Icelanders who grew used to buying houses and cars with easily available foreign-currency loans now struggle to repay them. The cost of everyday goods is skyrocketing — furniture retailer Ikea hiked its prices by 25 percent last month.
Iceland has been forced to seek $10 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund and individual countries.
Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde told The Associated Press on Saturday that Iceland's economy would get even worse next year, with a "severe drop" in GDP and purchasing power and rising unemployment.
Haarde said he does not accept personal responsibility for the crisis. He blames commercial bankers who expanded recklessly in the wake of a mid-1990s stock market boom.
But the protest organizers and many other Icelanders say government oversight of the banks was too weak. They want Haarde's coalition government to resign and hold new elections by next spring. By law, Haarde does not have to call a vote until 2011.
Settled by Vikings more than 1,000 years ago and later colonized by Denmark, Iceland became a self-governing country under the Danish crown on Dec. 1, 1918. The volcanic island gained full independence in 1944.
Throughout the anniversary Monday, Icelanders threw taunts, the occasional egg and acts of political theater at a government many now hold in contempt.
Much of the protest — held on a wind-swept hill overlooked by a statue of Iceland's first Viking settler, Ingolfur Arnarson — had a distinctively Nordic flavor. One protester threw meat and cheese onto the lawn of nearby Government House, encouraging the ravens to come and whisk the government away.
Artist Hildur Margretadottir came to the demonstration holding an artificial horse's head on a stick — her version of an old Norse technique for putting a curse on an enemy.
"I am turning it toward the central bank," she said.
She said Iceland's bankers and politicians "were gambling with our money, and they still are."
Across Icelandic society, political disillusionment runs deep.
Marketing manager Runar Birgisson said he helped vote Haarde's government into power.
"Today, I wouldn't elect any of them," he said. "I wouldn't hire them to clean my toilet."