Thousands protest as Romania scraps anti-corruption rules
Protests erupted in Bucharest on Tuesday (31 January) evening after Romania's left-wing government scrapped some anti-corruption rules, in a move likely to allow leading politicians to avoid criminal persecution.
The cabinet of social democrat Sorin Grindeanu had convened to approve the 2017 budget, but later passed an emergency measure to decriminalise some offences. Abuse of power will no longer be prosecuted if it is deemed to have caused financial damage of less than €44,000.
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The bill was only made public after the meeting.
Changes will enter into force within 10 days, without need for approval by the parliament.
Crowds gathered in Bucharest and other cities across Romania after news of the meeting broke.
Some 10,000 people gathered outside the government's headquarters, calling the government "thieves" and "traitors" and imploring the cabinet to resign.
Social democrats and liberals came to power in December in a landslide victory, promising higher wages and pensions.
They say the criminal code must be amended because of recent constitutional court rulings.
Reform to reduce the sentences of some non-violent crimes would ease prison overcrowding, they argue.
Justice minister Florin Iordache said on Tuesday that Romania would otherwise risk breaking the European Convention on Human Rights.
But critics say the measure will clear several leading politicians who are under investigation or on trial in abuse-of-power cases.
Those include social democratic party chief and lower house speaker Liviu Dragnea, who is serving a suspended jail sentence for electoral fraud in 2012.
The conviction has barred him from becoming, as Romania's centre-right president Klaus Iohannis said he would refuse to swear in anyone with a criminal record.
On Tuesday, Iohannis announced "a day of mourning for the rule of law".
"The government ignored the dream of millions of Romanians who want live in a country free of corruption," he posted on Facebook.
Laura Codruta Kovesi, the chief prosecutor at Romania's National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA), said she had only seen a draft of the bill, but its contents would render the fight against corruption in Romania "irrelevant".
Kovesi's DNA has spearheaded efforts to stamp out abuse. During the last three years, prosecutors indicted nearly 2,000 people in cases involving abuse of power that have caused damages totalling up to €1 billion.
But the European Commission said last week Romania was still lagging on the fight against corruption.
It said the main test for Romania was to put in place internal guarantees that the reforms which were passed so far were made “irreversible”.