Thousands take to streets as Romania relaxes graft laws


By Mihaela Rodina, AFP

BUCHAREST — Thousands of Romanians took to the streets Tuesday night after the government issued a controversial emergency decree reducing the penalties for corruption in a move which will allow several politicians to avoid criminal prosecution. In Bucharest protestors gathered spontaneously in front of the seat of government, chanting “thieves” and calling for the resignation of the social democrat government, which has been in power for less than a month, AFP reporters saw. Protests also took place in several other cities, including Cluj, Sibiu, Timisoara and Iasi, according to Romanian media reports. They erupted immediately after the announcement of the emergency decree which could allow many politicians to escape criminal prosecution. Justice Minister Florin Iordache justified the changes, which bypass parliament and will enter into force almost automatically, as needed “to bring the legislation in line with the decisions of the constitutional court.” Earlier this month the government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu published the emergency decrees, sparking angry protests across the country and criticism from Romania’s center-right President Klaus Iohannis, who was elected in 2014 on an anti-graft platform. “It is a day of mourning for the rule of law, which has received a hard blow from the opponents of justice and in the fight against corruption,” the head of state said in a statement Tuesday. Iohannis had even taken part in the first demonstrations against the legal changes. “This government has chosen to pass its ordinances secretly because it is afraid,” said Martina, an international relations student at the demonstration in Bucharest, fearing a “backtrack” in the fight against corruption. “Nothing gives them the legitimacy to do that … It’s a return to the period of 15 years ago,” echoed Cristian Clot, an IT employee. The gatherings dispersed without incident.

The legal changes decriminalize several offences and makes abuse of power punishable by incarceration only if it results in a monetary loss of more than 44,000 euros (US$47,500).