Romanians promise protests 'every day'

The country has been rocked by a new law allowing corruption

Romanians promise protests 'every day'

A man wearing a gas mask holds a Romanian flag as a his dog sits next to him at the end of a protest. | Image: Vadim Ghirda AP/Press Association Images

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Romania as part of anti-government protests.

It's the third rally in Bucharest protesting against a decree decriminalising some forms of corruption, with the country’s new socialist Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu refusing to repeal the controversial measure.

The emergency decree will see dozens of officials jailed for corruption freed by making official misconduct punishable by prison time only in cases in which the financial damage is more than 200,000 lei (€44,294).

Officials including Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the governing Social Democratic Party, stand to benefit from the measure. Mr Dragnea faces charges of abuse of power involving a sum of €24,000.

On Wednesday, an estimated 200,000 people protested against the decree.

"We came here like all the others – I believe – because we want them to revoke the decree and then leave,’" one protester told Euronews.

"I want them to undo the law, that they just gave in the middle of the night and that’s it. I want them to do their job. I do not want them to leave, I want them to be responsible until the end because they were voted, but they are stealing in front of us," another protester insisted.

Reaction

President Klaus Iohannis, whose role as head of state is largely ceremonial but who commands respect in many parts of the country, asked the constitutional court to strike it down.

"I am very impressed by the scale of demonstrations that took place last night in the entire country," he said in a statement on Thursday, praising the latest in a series of protests at which he himself had turned up.

Mr. Iohannis, who was elected in 2014 as the first president from the country’s German-speaking minority, called Tuesday a “day of mourning for the rule of law."

The head of one agency charged with tackling corruption in Romania has said the move could roll back years of progress.

"There has only ever been one single strategy for fighting corruption and we have learned and developed with that. The state should be consistent and follow this strategy through the proper institutions. If not, it should have communicated its plans to change the national anti-corruption strategy before proceeding with legislative change," Daniel Horodniceanu said.

However, the government is standing its ground with Minister of Justice Florin Iordache publishing a message on his Facebook page urging the protesters to read the text of the decree themselves.

"I don’t understand what the protesters are upset about,” Mr Dragnea said before the decree was passed on Tuesday.

How it happened

Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007 and until recently was seen as making widespread progress on handling corruption within the country.

Romania’s new government was elected at the end of last year by a large majority but on low turnout, less than 40%. The Social Democrats came back to power only a year after they were ousted by similar demonstrations.

Since the government was sworn in, its apparent retreat on reforms has caused widespread alarm.

The new law threatens to create a new problem for the bloc’s executives in Brussels, who are already troubled by problems like the Greek debt crisis, slow growth among the countries that use the euro currency and Britain’s plans for withdrawing from the bloc.