Romania protests: Hundreds of thousands march against decree decriminalising corruption offences

Critics say measure will help government allies and other figures facing corruption charges

Samuel Osborne@SamuelOsborne93
Thursday 02 February 2017 17:58
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Emergency order triggered some of the biggest nationwide protests since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989
Emergency order triggered some of the biggest nationwide protests since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Romania to demonstrate against an emergency decree that will decriminalise some corruption offences.

The country's government has rejected calls to withdraw the decree in the face of huge nationwide protests, the resignation of a cabinet minister and a call from the president to rescind the decree.

The order, adopted late on Tuesday, has triggered some of the biggest nationwide protests since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Eight people were injured during clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday and 20 were detained.

Eight people were injured during clashes and 20 were detained

When he was asked if the cabinet, which has been in power for less than a month, planned to withdraw the decree, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said: "No, we don't."

The decree decriminalises cases of official misconduct if the funds involved are less than 200,000 lei (£38,000).

The government says the decree is necessary to reduce overcrowding in prisons, but critics argue the measure will release government allies and help other figures facing corruption charges.

It would also potentially halt an ongoing abuse-of-office trial of Social Democrat (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea.

Protesters rally in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, 1 February, 2017

Romania's trade and business minister, Florin Jianu, resigned in reaction to the bill, saying on Facbook it was the "ethical thing to do... not for my professional honesty, my conscience is clean on that front, but for my child.

"How am I going to look him in the eye and what am I going to tell him over the years? Am I going to tell him his father was a coward and supported actions he does not believe in, or that he chose to walk away from a story that isn't his?"

President Klaus Iohannis followed Romania's top judicial watchdog in filing a legal challenge to the decree with the Constitutional Court.

The decree is due to take effect in just over a week.

European Commission vice president Frank Timmermans urged the government to "urgently reconsider" the decree, warning it could affect the EU funds Romania receives if it adopted.

In a separate statement, the US, Germany, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, and France said Romania's government had undermined "progress on rule of law and the fight against corruption over the past ten years."

Additional reporting by agencies

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