Romanian government under pressure as 500,000 protest

Mass rallies persist nationwide despite scrapping of contentious decree that decriminalised some corruption offences.

An estimated 500,000 Romanians, including more than 200,000 in the capital, Bucharest, rallied on Sunday despite a government climbdown over a contentious corruption decree in the face of week-long mass demonstrations.

Fulfilling a promise made late on Saturday, the government announced on Sunday it had approved the withdrawal of controversial executive order that would have decriminalised certain grant offences and protected politicians from prosecution.

The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu had originally approved the ordinance late on Tuesday, with no input from the country’s parliament, sparking the biggest demonstrations in the country in decades.

After repealing the decree, Grindeanu asked the justice minister to prepare a draft law to be sent to parliament for debate and approval.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party has a parliamentary majority with a junior partner. President Klaus Iohannis, who is expected to speak later on Sunday, then needs to sign off on the legislation.

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Yet, the announcement did not stop demonstrators from gathering for a sixth consecutive day, as massive crowds poured into Bucharest’s Victory Square to protest against what they deem an alarming retreat in the country’s fight against corruption.

“It has gone, the amendments are history, but the protesters are still not trusting the prime minister,” Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from the capital, Bucharest, said.

The controversial decree prompted the biggest mass protests in the country since 1989 [Stoyan Nenov/Reuters]
The controversial decree prompted the biggest mass protests in the country since 1989 [Stoyan Nenov/Reuters]

Chater said demonstrators were questioning Grindeanu’s competence, calling for him and his government to “go”.

“Why did he try and rush through this legislation? What else will happen? They [protesters] are not happy with the way things are going,” Chater said.

“They want the government and the prime minister to step down,” he added. “They want a clear democratic transparent government and they’re making sure that their protest is heard.”

Chater said more than 200,000 people had gathered in the Bucharest protest.

“It’s going to be a record turnout across the country. It’s already approaching half a million.”

Later, on Sunday, local broadcasters also reported that about 500,000 protesters had taken to the streets nationwide, including 40,000 in Timisoara and 45,000 in Cluj-Napoca, as well as in a string other cities and towns.

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Grindeanu said on Saturday he would scrap the measure, as requested by Iohannis, as he did not want to “divide Romania”.

The decree was to make abuse of power a crime only punishable by jail if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei ($47,500).

Grindeanu’s government said it would align the penal code with the constitution, but critics saw it as a clear attempt by the ruling party to let off many of its own officials and policy makers.

The street protests have been on a scale not seen since the fall of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies