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Romanians Gather Again To Demand Government's Resignation, Probe Into Violence

Scores of protesters show up on August 14 outside the government building in Bucharest, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Viorica Dancila's cabinet.
Scores of protesters show up on August 14 outside the government building in Bucharest, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Viorica Dancila's cabinet.

BUCHAREST -- Scores of Romanians on August 14 gathered for a fifth night in a row outside the government building in Bucharest demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Viorica Dancila's cabinet and calling for those responsible for the violent repression of an August 10 protest to be held accountable.

More than 400 protesters required medical assistance after riot police used water cannon and tear gas against an estimated 100,000 mostly peaceful protesters on August 10, indiscriminately beating up demonstrators in a display of violence unseen in Romania since the early 1990s.

Some groups of protesters on August 10 threw bottles and pavement slabs at the police, but most of the demonstrators were peaceful expatriates who came home to protest against corruption, poverty, and the ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) repeated attacks on the judiciary.

EU- and NATO-member Romania ranks as one of the 28-member bloc's most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

While the crowds have dwindled gradually since August 10, vocal protesters continued to gather outside the government building every night despite the sweltering heat.

Many of those present in the square on August 14 held antigovernment and anticorruption signs, and repeatedly chanted "Resign, resign," and PSD -- the red plague."

The mixed crowds included families with young children, young people and elderly alike.

Unlike the previous evenings, the riot police were nowhere to be seen, while regular police surrounded the sprawling Victoria Square mostly to direct traffic and allow people to join the core of protesters standing on the platform outside the entrance to government headquarters.

Earlier on August 14, more than 100 Romanians and rights groups filed criminal complaints against riot police, prosecutors said.

Dozens of video recordings circulating on social media show police beating journalists and nonviolent protesters holding their hands up.

Prosecutors said they were investigating the riot police -- the Jandarmerie -- as well as Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Speranta Cliseru, the Bucharest prefect who authorized the use of force, on suspicion of abusive behavior, abuse of office, and negligence.

Among the victims of violence on August 10 were a cameraman from Austrian public television as well as some Israeli tourists who were not attending the protest and were taken out of a taxi by riot police and beaten.

Riot police have said the use of force was justified and that their intervention was gradual and proportionate. The interior minister said she had nothing to blame herself for.

The violence was criticized by center-right President Klaus Iohannis, rights groups, and the European Commission.

On August 14, Amnesty International voiced grave concerns about the "allegations of disproportionate and indiscriminate use of chemical irritants...which may contravene Romania's obligations under international law."

There have been several large protests since the Social Democrats took power in early 2017 and began decriminalizing several corruption offenses in what some say is a campaign to save PSD leader Liviu Dragnea from going to jail after he was condemned for abuse of office. His sentence is not definitive.

The changes to the Criminal Code were criticized by the European Commission and the U.S. State Department. The amendments have been challenged in the Constitutional Court.

"The protesters have criticized the reversal of progress in the fields of judicial reform and the fight against corruption," a commission spokesperson said on August 14.

"Peaceful protests ended in violence. Violence can never be a solution in politics."

Alina (left) from Brasov and Madalina from Bucharest
Alina (left) from Brasov and Madalina from Bucharest

Alina joined her friend from Bucharest, Madalina, at the rally after watching in horror how the August 10 protest turned violent and how hundreds of protesters, most of them peaceful, were beaten by the riot police.

"We want to stay. That's why we're coming here, because we want to stay in Romania. I'm 22 going on 23 soon, and I wouldn't want to leave my country. I don't want to run away. If I left I would feel as if I renounced a battle which all of us have started now. I would not want to do that, to let them win."

Madalina agrees. "Yes, I back the same cause. I want to stay here. But we are furious that no matter how many people take to the streets, they simply ignore us. We need a leader, but not some politician, because we do not have clean politicians. A personality who would galvanize the masses, the protest, who would give us all a voice. I still nurture some hope. And I do hope that my hope will not be in vain."

Romania toppled communism in December 1989 in a bloody revolt in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

In 1990, a long-running protest in downtown Bucharest against the postcommunist government led by Ion Iliescu, a former close associate of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, was put down by thousands of violent miners who had been brought into the capital by Iliescu "to restore order."

Following the miners' attack, tens of thousands of disappointed Romanians left the country in a first wave of postcommunist emigration.

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