Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets in Bucharest and across Romania to protest decriminalizing official misconduct. The government moves have also concerned other nations and the EU.
Protests attracting tens of thousands in Romania's capital and across the east European nation took place for a third straight day Thursday. Police gave no exact figures but an estimated 80,000 people packed the hectare-sized square in front of Romania's parliament building in Bucharest. Hundreds of thousands more are believed to have taken part in other rallies around the country.
In what are considered the largest demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989, the protestors are calling for the Social Democratic Party (PSD) government to resign after it passed a decree to decriminalize official misconduct in some circumstances.
Protestor Florin Varlan said that PSD leader Liviu Dragnea "came out today and showed he understood nothing."
The ordinance passed by the government earlier this week decriminalizes official misconduct if the funds involved are less than 200,000 lei ($47,800, 44,200 euros).
Critics claim it is a bid by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu to protect the PSD chairman Liviu Dragnea who is facing legal proceedings for about half that amount.
Dragnea himself has a two year suspended prison sentence for vote rigging and is currently on trial. Dragnea defended the decree, saying it would not "free corrupt people."
Grindeanu on Thursday insisted the government, which passed the emergency decree two days earlier, would not withdraw it.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, a member of the National Liberal Party (PNL), said he would take the decree to the Constitutional Court, which is the last resort to prevent it from taking effect.
International community displeased
The decree received widespread condemnation. A joint statement from Germany, the US, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and France said Romania undermined "progress on rule of law and the fight against corruption over the past ten years."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner added "the United States is deeply concerned about the government of Romania's recent measures that undermine rule of law and weaken accountability for financial and corruption-related crimes."
European Commission Vice President Frank Timmermans called on the Romanian government to "urgently reconsider" the decree on Thursday, warning it could affect the amount of funding Romania receives from the EU.
kbd/jm (AP, dpa)