Romanian PM defiant after huge protests

Romanian PM defiant after huge protests

Romanian PM defiant after huge protests Romania’s prime minister insisted Feb. 2 that the government will press ahead with decrees decriminalizing certain corruption offences, defying the country’s biggest protests since the end of communism.

“We took a decision in the government and we are going to press ahead,” AFP quoted Sorin Grindeanu as saying after a meeting in Bucharest of his ruling left-wing Social Democrats (PSD).

In the largest demonstrations since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, as many as 300,000 people, according to media reports, thronged the streets of Bucharest and other cities overnight, many shouting “Thieves!” and “Resign!” 

A much smaller group, which media reports estimated at 40,000 protesters and riot police estimated at 80,000 people, gathered in the capital on Feb. 2.

The protests erupted after the government issued an emergency decree late Feb. 31 decriminalizing certain corruption offences and making abuse of power punishable by jail only if the sums involved exceed 44,000 euros ($47,500).

“The way they adopted this decree constitutes an abuse. We pay the ministers to work for us, not for their own benefit,” a 38-year-old protester, who gave his name as Florin, said Feb. 2.

In Bucharest overnight, a small group of football hooligans hurled bottles and firecrackers at police, who responded with tear gas, according to the authorities.

Twenty people were taken into custody and five people including two police officers were hurt.

The government has said it is merely bringing legislation into line with the constitution.

But critics say the principal person to gain will be PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, 54, currently on trial for alleged abuse of power involving 24,000 euros and who already barred from office for a previous conviction for voter fraud.

Dragnea on Feb. 2 denied that he would benefit, hitting out at a “campaign of lies and disinformation” and blaming President Klaus Iohannis of being the “moral author of last night’s violence.” 

“I talked to my lawyers. The decree does not put an end to my trial. The false accusation against me remains in place,” Dragnea told reporters.

Another initiative, which Grindeanu will submit to parliament, will see around 2,500 people serving sentences of less than five years released.  

The government said this will reduce prison overcrowding but critics say that the main beneficiaries will be the many officials and politicians ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive of recent years.