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Thousands In Romania Continue Protests Over Anticorruption Rollback

Protesters on the streets of Bucharest on February 3.
Protesters on the streets of Bucharest on February 3.

Massive street protests in Romania against the weakening of anticorruption laws continued into a fourth day on February 3, with tens of thousands of citizens coming out in cities across the country.

"Repeal it, repeal it" and "Corruption kills," read banners carried by demonstrators in Bucharest's main square, where more than 100,000 people protested.

Despite the growing protests, the government has refused to withdraw a decree it issued on January 31 that decriminalized some official misconduct.

The decree has plunged Romania into crisis, splitting political leaders and bringing an estimated 250,000 people onto the streets nationwide, including some 120,000 in front of the government headquarters in the capital's biggest square on February 3, police said.

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The decree was issued barely a month after the Social Democrat-led government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu took office.

President Klaus Iohannis has defied Grindeanu, filing a Constitutional Court challenge against the measures, saying they damage the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

The country’s ombudsman, Victor Ciorbea, on February 3 also joined the fray on the protesters’ side, filing his own challenge with the Constitutional Court.

General Prosecutor Augustin Lazar welcomed the court challenges and said his office had its own case before the Court of Appeals.

The Constitutional Court has given the sides until February 7 to submit opinions before deciding on the timing for the next steps.

The decree allows officials involved in graft with family members or involving amounts of less than 200,000 lei ($47,500) to avoid jail.

The government says the measures were needed to align Romania with a European Union directive on the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trials.

It also said the action was needed to help ease overcrowding in prisons.

Many complained the decision was taken by emergency government decree instead of through parliament.

"There would have been plenty of time to discuss such things in a regular, parliamentary procedure, so no one can claim any urgency,” said Ciorbea, the ombudsman.

Countries including Germany and the United States have expressed concern about the emergency decree.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters