Romania PM stays on as protests continue

Protesters lighting up the Victoriei Plaza, outside the Romanian government headquarters in Bucharest, on Sunday, demanding the Cabinet resign.
Protesters lighting up the Victoriei Plaza, outside the Romanian government headquarters in Bucharest, on Sunday, demanding the Cabinet resign.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BUCHAREST • Romania's Prime Minister defied calls to resign as his Cabinet's decision to scrap measures easing anti-corruption laws failed to stem the largest protests since the fall of communism.

Premier Sorin Grindeanu said the only democratic way to change government is through a no-confidence motion in Parliament, where his Social Democrat Party (PSD) dominates.

The government had planned to decriminalise abuse-of-office offences for sums of less than 200,000 lei (S$67,200).

It also sent a draft law to pardon prisoners serving sentences shorter than five years, excluding rapists and repeat offenders.

Mr Grindeanu said the 200,000-lei threshold that sparked fury may be dropped in talks with parties and that he was considering whether to fire Justice Minister Florin Iordache, whose communication he criticised as "poor".

Mr Iordache said yesterday he would publish the details of a new Bill on the criminal code.

But reversing plans to pardon some convicted officials and shield others from future prosecution was not enough to prevent a sixth straight day of demonstrations.

A record 600,000 people gathered on Sunday evening nationwide, demanding the Cabinet resign, including 300,000 in Bucharest, local media estimated.

A few hundred, mostly pensioners, gathered to support the government.

Mr Iordache said he still believes the changes are necessary and that he will decide whether to resign tomorrow or Thursday, after Parliament approves the Budget for this year and votes on a no-confidence motion filed by the opposition last week.

The vote on the Budget is scheduled for today. The no-confidence motion will be voted on in the coming days.

While the government said the measures were meant to ease prison overcrowding, its actions would have freed hundreds of former officials and potentially halted investigations of others.

They include an investigation into Mr Liviu Dragnea, the PSD leader who is seeking a retrial after receiving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud.

"A government capable of these sort of measures is capable of worse things," said Mr Radu Medelcut, a disgruntled 35-year-old programmer.

"I want the people who signed this decree to resign. I'm pessimistic because if this first month was like this, it could get worse," he said.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Romania PM stays on as protests continue'. Print Edition | Subscribe