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19th Jan 2020

Romanian minister resigns amid huge anti-corruption protests

  • Street protester in Bucharest. (Photo: Paul Arne Wagner)

Florin Jianu, the minister of business and entrepreneurship in Romania, resigned early on Thursday (2 February) as protests against the government's move to decriminalise corruption grew into the country's largest since the fall of communism.

In a surprise manoeuvre on Tuesday night, the left-liberal government passed an emergency ordinance to say that abuse of office will be prosecuted only if it causes damages of at least €44,000. Critics say the measure would clear the social-democratic party chairman, Liviu Dragnea, who is serving a suspended prison sentence for trying to rig an election in 2012

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The measure is one of the first bills the social-democrats and liberals, their junior coalition partner, have passed since taking power last month, and was supposedly a way to alleviate overcrowding in prisons.

Jianu said he was leaving his post after only 28 days in the job because of his child.

"Years from now, when I will look him in the eyes, I won't have to tell him his father was a coward," the ex-minister wrote on his Facebook page, adding: "Romania doesn't deserve what is happening now".

At least 150,000 people flooded the streets of Bucharest on Wednesday, despite freezing temperatures.

They only dispersed when violent football fans called ultras arrived with fireworks, stones and other makeshift weapons.

The police responded with tear gas, and people were told to leave the place peacefully.

Four policemen and two demonstrators were injured and 20 rioters were arrested.

Opposition media said the ultras were paid for by the government in a bid to discredit the protests.

Police issued a request on Facebook asking people to help them identify the provocateurs.

Demonstrations also took place in other cities in Romania, as well as outside Romania's permanent representation to the EU in Brussels.

"Nobody should get a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the way it was done is particularly disturbing. The government passed this law without a proper debate, late at night, when nobody was paying attention," Daniela Cuciureanu, a lobbyist, told EUobserver in Brussels.

"But we see that people do care. This is not how you legislate in a country that has been an EU member for 10 years," she added.

Another protest will be held in Brussels on Friday at lunchtime.

Former justice minister, conservative MEP Monica Macovei, told EUobserver in a written statement: "The Romanian people will fight against this effort to subvert our anticorruption fight, and we ask the European Commission to start asking some serious questions about whether this ordinance is in keeping with the commitments that Romania has made to move forward, and not back, in the anticorruption fight."

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and first vice-president Frans Timmermans issued an official warning on Wednesday, saying they were greatly concerned that the fight against corruption "needs to be advanced, not undone".

"The commission warns against backtracking and will look thoroughly at the emergency ordinance on the Criminal Code and the Law on Pardons in this light," they said in a statement.

The European Parliament called a last-minute debate on Romania on Thursday morning. According to sources, the socialist and liberal groups welcomed the debate, rather than backing the government in Bucharest.

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