Government defies calls to quit despite mass rallies

Protesters vow to keep pressuring Romanian government, but ruling coalition head says prime minister has full support.

    Romania's government has rejected calls to resign after mass nationwide protests forced it to scrap a controversial decree that would have decriminalised some corruption offences.

    Romania to scrap corruption decree after mass protests

    Following the largest protests since the fall of communism in 1989, the Social Democrat-led government on Sunday rescinded the decree, which would have shielded dozens of politicians from prosecution.

    But even after the government's embarrassing U-turn, an estimated 500,000 protesters all over the country took to the streets later on Sunday chanting "We don't believe you, we won't give up".

    The rallies were the biggest in the country since the fall of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, and some said they will continue protesting until the government resigns.

    'No reason to resign'

    But Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the ruling centre-left coalition and the chief target of the protesters' anger, said on Monday that the government would not resign, sounding a defiant note during a meeting of senior party officials on Monday.

    IN PICTURES: Romania protests - A family's fight

    Dragnea, head of the Social Democrat Party (PSD), was convicted of electoral fraud in a 2012 referendum and was barred from taking a role in the cabinet. After the PSD and their liberal junior partners ALDE won the December elections, Dragnea hand-picked Sorin Grindeanu to head his cabinet. 

    Had it survived, the decree would have cleared Dragnea of his suspended two-year sentence for vote rigging and this could have meant that he would finally be legally allowed to occupy the coveted prime minister's seat.

    "Dragnea, who is facing corruption charges and will appear in court on February 14, appeared in parliament this morning and said that he is fully supporting Grindeanu," Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from the capital, Bucharest, said.

    "He said that they had a very comfortable majority in the elections in December and they saw no reason to resign."

    On Sunday, Grindeanu, the prime minister, told broadcaster Antena3 that he had no plans to step down.

    "I will not resign," he said. Only the parliament could force him to go, but he had a definite majority there, Grindeanu added.  

    PSD leader Dragnea is facing corruption charges and was convicted of electoral fraud in 2012 [Reuters]

    In a separate development, Justice Minister Florin Iordache told reporters on Monday that he would publish the details of a new, alternative bill to update the criminal code, which would be put to the public for debate for a month.

    INSIDE STORY: Why is Romania suddenly in turmoil? (24:30)

    "We will develop and publish a draft bill which will be submitted to parliament after public consultation," he said. 

    But his own ministry later appeared to contradict him, issuing a statement that it was not planning to draft a bill.

    "He was supposed to bring forward a new white paper on the criminal code, but later he appeared to say that he wasn't going to present anything," said Al Jazeera's Chater.

    "Apparently they learned their lesson."

    OPINION: Romania - Keep the corrupt in jail, where they belong

    The Romanian government is also facing a no-confidence vote filed by the opposition Liberals and Save Romania Union.

    Dragnea said that his party will fully support Grindeanu in the upcoming no-confidence motion.

    Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but has still not met the bloc's requirements regarding judicial efficiency and fighting corruption. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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