Friday 22 September 2017

Mass protests force Romania corruption U-turn

A protester holds a flag during the anti-corruption demonstration in Bucharest Picture: Reuters
A protester holds a flag during the anti-corruption demonstration in Bucharest Picture: Reuters

Gregory Katz

The largest anti-government crowds since the violent 1989 revolution that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu last night forced Romania's new government to repeal a hastily adopted decree that would have eased penalties for official corruption.

The law, opposed by the influential Romanian Orthodox Church, would have weakened the country's emerging anti-corruption effort.

The government backed down last night after six days of street protests, but plans to introduce another version of the law.

The late-night introduction last week of an emergency ordinance to turn a blind eye toward bribery, fraud and other crimes by officials if the amount involved was less than about €45,000 provoked a lightning response from Romania's civil society.

Nightly throngs in Bucharest and other major cities pit angry citizens who believe a modern, pro-European Romania must not condone corruption in high places against a moneyed elite that stands to benefit, if the law eventually passes.

"We want all people to be equal before the law, and no privileges for the people in Parliament," said retired engineer Profira Popo, protesting in the crowded Victory Square.

Opponents see it as legitimising criminal activity - if it's done by people with influence. It would not only go lightly on future offences, but take some politicians off the hook for cases pending against them.

"The law protects a layer of ex-Communist politicians who kept stealing for years," said software engineer Dorin Popa (36). He said the tough anti-corruption drive which began in 2008 had "panicked" the ruling elite.

"The rule of law is kind of working, so the only thing they can do is change the law," he said. "They think the Romanian people are fools."

After the repeal, tens of thousands packed the Victory Square outside the government offices, waving Romanian flags, blowing horns and carrying giant puppets of politicians dressed as convicts. They yelled, "you thieves" and "resign".

Irish Independent

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