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Romanian Leader Defies Calls To Resign In Face Of Protests

Bucharest Protesters Vow To Continue
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WATCH: Many people vowed to continue with street protests in Bucharest, calling for the government to resign, after it conceded to their demand that it withdraw a decree decriminalizing some official corruption. (RFE/RL's Moldovan Service)

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has insisted he will not step down as protests mount despite his move to repeal an unpopular decree that would have decriminalized some official corruption.

"I will not resign," Grindeanu told broadcaster Antena3, adding he could only be forced out by the parliament, where he holds a majority.

Grindeanu’s vow to remain in office came on February 5 as massive public protests against the decree turned into demonstrations against his rule by many in the crowds.

As many as 500,000 demonstrators hit the streets nationwide on the sixth day of protests, including more than 200,000 in the capital Bucharest, according to media estimates.

Earlier in the day, Grindeanu's cabinet confirmed the withdrawal of the measure in a statement issued after an emergency meeting on the issue.

But that provided Grindeanu with no respite as protesters remained on the streets.

Many of them chanted "Resign! Resign!" as they waved flags and signs and blew whistles.

In the face of the calls to resign, Grindeanu said his government, which has been in office barely a month, "has a responsibility to the people who voted for us."

A day earlier, Grindeanu yielded to public pressure and promised to withdraw the decree because, he said, he didn’t want to "divide Romania...Romania in this moment seems broken in two."

The six nights of protests -- the largest demonstrations since the toppling of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 -- have shaken the political landscape, with the president and prime minister on opposing sides of the decree issue.

The decree would have made the abuse of power a crime only punishable by jail if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei ($47,500).

Grindeanu's Social Democrats (PSD) party argued the move was meant to bring the law into line with the constitution and reduce overcrowding in prisons.

Critics said the motive behind the government's action was to let off the many PSD officials and lawmakers who have been caught in a major anticorruption drive of recent years.

The government's pullback could be seen as a victory for President Klaus Iohannis, who filed a Constitutional Court challenge against the decree, arguing that it undermined the rule of law and efforts to combat corruption.

With reporting by Reuters and DPA

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