BUSINESS
10/01/2011 12:23 EDT | Updated 12/01/2011 05:12 EST

Crisis-weary Icelanders pelt lawmakers with eggs at opening of new parliamentary session

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - Icelanders angry about the price debt-burdened citizens are paying for their country's economic crisis pelted lawmakers with eggs Saturday during a protest at the opening of the new parliamentary session. One legislator was slightly injured.

The protesters were demanding the government do more to help households crippled by debt since the tiny country's banks collapsed in 2008, bringing the economy to a standstill.

More than 1,000 people gathered outside Iceland's parliament, the Althingi, in central Reykjavik, with some banging pots and pans and hurling food and fireworks at the building. As lawmakers, dignitaries and the country's president walked to the traditional start-of-term Mass at a cathedral next door, they were hit with yoghurt and eggs.

Lawmaker Arni Thor Sigurdsson of the Left Green Movement fell to the ground after being hit on the head by an egg and was helped into the cathedral by colleagues.

Police formed a cordon to protect the politicians as they emerged from the church service, but more eggs rained down as they walked back to the parliament building. The protest broke up soon afterward and no arrests were made.

Noisy demonstrations have become common in Iceland, a North Atlantic island nation of 320,000 that, until the credit crunch hit, had a fast-expanding economy and one of the world's highest standards of living.

The country's major banks all collapsed within a week in October 2008, its krona currency plummeted and a series of demonstrations dubbed the "saucepan revolution" toppled the centre-right government.

The left-wing coalition that replaced it has also faced protests against plans for debt-slashing austerity measures.

While the economy is slowly recovering, many Icelanders took out foreign-currency loans and mortgages during the boom years that they have struggled to repay since the krona's collapse.

The organizers of Saturday's protest handed the government a 34,000-signature petition demanding debt relief for hard-hit households.

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir said the government was doing its best to "lighten the load" on homeowners.

"These are difficult times that the nation is going through," she told broadcaster RUV. "The best thing would be if we could work together to handle these problems. They are still there but are much smaller than a year ago. We are working through this and I hope we can work together to make this a better society."

President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said in his opening speech to the session that the protest revealed a dangerous rift between people and politicians that parliament would have to address.