Romanian protests continue despite government u-turn

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets yesterday to celebrate the decision to scrap new laws that would have decriminalised low-level corruption

Romanian protests continue despite government u-turn

Tens of thousands of people gather for a demonstration in from of the government building in Bucharest, Romania, 05-Feb-2017. Image: AP Photo/Darko Bandic

More than half a million people have taken to the streets in Romania - despite the government’s decision to scrap a hastily adopted decree that would have shielded many politicians from prosecution for corruption.

The country’s Social Democrat government annulled the decree on Sunday following week-long mass protests and international criticism.

Even after the government rescinded the decree - a decision which has yet to be upheld by parliament - protests continued on Sunday, with people shouting "We don't believe you, we won't give up."

The country's justice minister said he will publish details of a new bill to replace the decree later today.

A week of protests

The public response to the government plan has seen large-scale gatherings across the country for six nights in a row - the largest street protests in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989.

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s cabinet held an emergency meeting to scrap the decree on Sunday as tens of thousands of demonstrators outside chanted "Thieves, thieves" and "Resignation, Resignation."

The decree would have exempted abuse-of-power offences involving sums of money below 200,000 Romanian Leu (around €44,000) from prosecution.

It would also have removed criminal negligence as an offence and narrowed the definition of a conflict of interest.

The decree was to be complimented by a bill that would grant thousands of prison pardons - ostensibly to combat prison overcrowding - however many demonstrators believe the changes would have benefited senior officials rather than ordinary convicts.

Mr Grindeanu has refused to stand down, saying his government, which has barely been in office a month, "has a responsibility to the people who voted for us."

Liviu Dragnea

Had the measures been implemented they would have effectively put an end to the ongoing trial of PSD party leader Liviu Dragnea - who stands accused of using his political influence to secure state salaries for two people working at his party headquarters between 2006 and 2013.

Dragnea is barred from holding political office because of an electoral fraud conviction and is viewed by many as the real power behind Grindeanu's government.

Tens of thousands of people shine lights from mobile phones and torches during a protest in front of the government building in Bucharest, Romania, 05-02-5017. Image: AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru

A giant laser plastered the words "Do Not Give Up" and "Resignation," on the facade of the building housing the headquarters of government - the prime minister's office - on Sunday.

New criminal code bill

The decision to annul the decree is seen as an embarrassing u-turn for Prime Minister Grindeanu; however protesters are concerned the government will look to re-introduce the measures in some form when the controversy recedes.

The country's justice minister is expected to reveal details of a replacement bill later today. 

Among the decree's chief critics was President Klaus Iohannis, who joined one anti-corruption rally two weeks ago and repeatedly urged the government to scrap the measure.

Germany and the United States were among nine western powers which had expressed concern that the decree could undermine Romania's partnerships in the EU and NATO.

Even after the repeal, tens of thousands packed the Victory Square outside the government offices Sunday evening, waving Romanian flags, blowing horns and carrying giant puppets of politicians dressed as convicts. They yelled, "You thieves" and "Resign"

Thousands protested in the cities of Cluj, Timisoara, Craiova, Ploiesti and even in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.