Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Romanian anti-corruption protests bring down PM

  • 'Ponta is giving up his mandate. Someone needs to assume responsibility for what has happened' (Photo: Partidul Social Democrat)

Romanian PM Victor Ponta has promised to resign amid mass anti-corruption protests linked to a deadly nightclub fire.

"Ponta is giving up his mandate. Someone needs to assume responsibility for what has happened," Liviu Dragnea, the head of the PM’s Social Democratic Party said on Wednesday (4 November), according to the Reuters news agency.

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  • "Corruption kills" was the message at a demonstration of between 15,000 and 20,000 people in Bucharest. (Photo: Alex B)

Thousands of people demonstrated in Bucharest on Tuesday evening in a popular movement which transformed a nightclub tragedy into a revolt against high-level graft.

Four days after a blaze killed 32 people and injured 180 in a Bucharest nightclub on Friday, between 15,000 and 20,000 people demonstrated in the Romanian capital.

In an itinerary that demonstrated the targets of their anger, they first gathered on Victory Square, the seat of government, then marched to the interior ministery and Bucharest town hall.

They were carrying banners and chanting slogans against corruption and prime minister Victor Ponta, interior minister Gabriel Oprea and Cristian Popescu "Piedone", the mayor of Bucharest's fourth district, where the Colectiv nightclub is located.

"Corruption kills", "Ponta resigns" or "Murderers", were the messages.

Although Piedone said that the Colectiv Club management had done all the necessary paperwork, there are suspicions that municipal authorities had not properly carried out safety measures at the nightclub.

Around 400 people were authorised to enter the building on Friday when the capacity should have been limited to 80, and the foam covering the walls was not fireproof.

The mismanagement prompted suspicions of corruption, in a city where the mayor himself, Sorin Oprescu, was dismissed by the authorities in September over corruption charges. Piedone was one of the favourites to succeed him.

#corruptionkills

After a first meeting on Sunday to pay homage to those killed in the fire, Tuesday's demonstration, organised through social media with the hashtag #coruptiaucide (#corruptionkills), aimed at a government already marred by scandal.

Interior minister Gabriel Oprea is held responsible for the reported chaos in the emergency services' intervention at the nightclub on Friday.

But he was already in a fragile position after the death of a police biker in his motorcade a few weeks ago as well as suspicions of having plagiarised his PhD.

PM Ponta, the demonstrators' main target, is for his part currently under trial for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. He could stay in office despite the charges after his majority in parliament upheld his immunity.

Demonstrators said they will descend into the streets on Wednesday and Thursday, and the movement could gain momentum.

In a message posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening, president Klaus Iohannis expressed his support.

"I am impressed by this evening's demonstrations," he wrote, adding that politicians "cannot ignore this feeling of revolt."

In the past, Iohannis, a political opponent of Ponta's government, called for Ponta's resignation over the corruption case.

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