Europe

Romania to withdraw corruption decree after mass protests

Demonstrators march in front of the government building during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 Image copyright AP
Image caption The announcement came as protesters took to the streets for a fifth consecutive day

The Romanian government says it will withdraw a controversial decree that would have decriminalised some corruption offences.

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said it would be repealed on Sunday.

"I do not want to divide Romania. It can't be divided in two," Mr Grindeanu said in a televised statement.

Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered his announcement, which came after five consecutive days of demonstrations.

The protests in the eastern European country against the decree have been the largest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Mr Grindeanu said he "heard and saw many opinions", including from "the voice of the street". He said that parliament will now debate a new corruption law.

He added Justice Minister Florin Iordache would take responsibility for the poor communication and confusion around the controversial measure which would have allowed many officials convicted of corruption to leave prison.

Rallies outside parliament

The decree was meant to come into force at midnight on 10 February.

It would have decriminalised abuse of power offences when sums of less than €44,000 (£38,000; $47,500) are involved.

One immediate beneficiary would have been Liviu Dragnea, who leads the ruling PSD party and faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000.

The leftist government only returned to power in December after protests forced its last leader from power in October 2015.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Prime Minister Grandeanu spoke as protests continued

The EU had warned Romania against undoing its progress against corruption.

The government passed the decree on Tuesday, immediately sparking protests, which involved an estimated 300,000 people on Wednesday evening.

It said the changes were needed to reduce prison overcrowding and align certain laws with the constitution.

But critics saw it as a way for the PSD to absolve officials convicted or accused of corruption.

"The damage it will do, if it comes into force, can never be repaired," Laura Kovesi, chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate had told the BBC.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Demonstrators on Saturday rallied outside the massive parliament building, built by former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

One of the demonstrators, Cristian Busuioc, explained why he had come out on the streets with his 11-year-old son.

"I want to explain to him ... what democracy means, and the way the ones who govern must create laws for the people and not against them or in their own interest," he told the Associated Press.

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