Tens of thousands of Romanians braved the cold and returned to the streets in protest on Sunday (12 February), calling on the government to resign as they accused it of attempting to water down anti-corruption laws.
“Thieves! Resign!” chanted protesters in front of the seat of government in Bucharest, as they used the torches from their mobile phones to form a giant Romanian flag.
— Siegfried Muresan (@SMuresan) February 12, 2017
Up to 50,000 protesters took part in the Bucharest march, according to Romanian media reports. The authorities did not give any estimate of their own.
The one-month-old cabinet of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu enraged voters when it quietly approved late on 31 January an emergency decree that would have decriminalised several graft offenses.
The decree, which was widely criticised in Romania and by its Western allies, prompted the largest display of popular anger since the fall of communism in 1989, with at least half a million people taking to the streets last Sunday.
The government was forced to rescind the decree, and its architect, Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned, citing a need to appease public opinion but arguing he had done nothing wrong.
But even after the decree was withdrawn, rallies have continued throughout the week, with protesters demanding the resignation of a government they say they cannot trust.
Responding to a call on social media, the protesters held up their mobile phone torches against coloured pieces of paper, lighting up the cold night air with the blue, yellow and red of the national flag.
“Resist,” read a huge slogan projected onto a nearby building.
Some protesters in the crowd held up banners with the message “Stop corruption! Fighting for democracy”.
“We want to give the government a red card,” one of the protesters, 33-year-old businessman Adrian Tofan, told AFP in Bucharest.
Meanwhile, up to 30,000 more took to the streets in other major cities, calling on the government to stand down.
— Dan McLaughlin (@DanMcL99) February 12, 2017
Among them were some 10,000 protesters in Cluj, Transylvania’s main city, 4,000 in Timișoara in the west, and 5,000 in the central city of Sibiu.
Sunday’s demonstrations, the 13th consecutive day of protests against the government, took place despite the administration backing down over the planned controversial decree which would have made abuse of power a crime punishable by jail only if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (€44,000).
“We want early elections”
“The justice minister’s resignation isn’t enough after what they tried to do,” said Tofan, the protester.
Another demonstrator also said he had completely lost faith in the government.
“We don’t trust this government, we want early elections,” said Andreea Moldovan, a doctor who had made a 170-kilometre journey to Bucharest, especially for the protest.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and Brussels has long taken Bucharest to task over slow progress dealing with corruption and organised crime.
The country has intensified the fight against corruption in recent years with the creation of a prosecutor attached to the DNA anti-corruption agency, which has become one of the most popular government agencies following the conviction of several ministers and senior officials.
Graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Romania below all but three of its fellow EU states in a January report based on public perception of the prevalence of corruption. Worldwide, the country ranked 57th.