Romania's new leftist government has decriminalized some graft and abuse-of-power cases in the ex-communist state's biggest retreat on anticorruption reforms since joining the European Union a decade ago.
More than 10,000 people gathered in Bucharest and other cities to protest after the emergency decree was announced late on January 31, shouting "Thieves!" and "Traitors!" and calling on the government to resign.
Romania's leftists swept into power in December, promising higher wages and pensions in a parliamentary election that revealed a deepening divide between older rural voters, tired of austerity, and younger city-dwellers.
Their plans to ease anticorruption rules were unveiled earlier this month, triggering the largest street protests since the 1989 fall of communism.
The leftists said the changes were needed to get the criminal code in line with recent constitutional court rulings.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has clashed with President Klaus Iohannis and the European Commission, which put Romania's justice system under special monitoring.
"Today is a day of mourning for the rule of law," Iohannis said. "The government has ignored the dreams of millions of Romanians who want to live in a country free of corruption."