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Romanian President Blasts Government Over Crisis

Romanians Continue Protests, Demand Government Resign
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Romania's President Klaus Iohannis says the Social Democrat-led government has caused a "fully fledged" political crisis by pushing with a decree that would have weakened the country's anticorruption drive and triggered the largest mass protests since the collapse of communism.

Iohannis, who addressed a special session of both chambers of parliament on February 7, said the majority of Romanians now believed the country is going in the wrong direction.

But he said he did not want to topple the cabinet led by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu or hold early elections.

"The resignation of a single minister is too little and early elections would be at this stage too much: this is the space for manoeuver available," Iohannis said, urging members of the governing coalition to govern “responsibly."

Some lawmakers from the governing coalition shouted "shame on you!" and walked out. Iohannis later received a standing ovation from opposition lawmakers.

Social Democratic Party (PSD) chief Liviu Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house, and Senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu refused to greet the president when he arrived at the joint session of parliament.

"Romania needs a strong government, not one that shyly executes party orders. Romania needs a government that governs transparently, predictably, not at night in secret," Iohannis said, in a reference to the government passing an emergency decree at midnight on January 31.

The decree, which redefined abuse of office and decriminalized embezzlement of less than 45,000 euros ($50,000), was seen by many as tailored specifically to exonerate Dragnea.

It triggered more than a week of huge mass protests that culminated with some 600,000 people taking to the streets on February 5 in dozens of cities across Romania -- some 300,000 of them in Bucharest alone -- despite the government hastily repealing the decree.

Protests continued on February 6 outside the government building, with people calling for the government's resignation. Government sympathizers held a much smaller counterprotest outside the presidential palace, calling for Iohannis's resignation.

With reporting by
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