Thousands of Romanian protesters return to streets

BUCHAREST: Tens of thousands of Romanians braved the cold and returned to the streets in protest on Sunday (Feb 12), calling on the government to resign as they accused it of attempting to water down anti-corruption laws.

People protest in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest, against the controversial corruption decrees. (AFP/Daniel MIHAILESCU)

"Thieves! Resign!" chanted protesters gathered in front of the seat of government in Bucharest, as they used the lights from their mobile phones to project the blue, yellow and red colours of the Romanian flag.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, up to 30,000 more took to the streets in other major cities, calling on the government to stand down.

Among them were some 10,000 protesters in Cluj, Transylvania's main city, 4,000 in Timisoara 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 a planned controversial decree which would have made abuse of power a crime punishable by jail only if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (US$47,500).

'WE WANT EARLY ELECTIONS'

The demonstrations, the largest since the ousting and summary execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, have continued despite the resignation on Thursday of justice minister Florin Iordache.

"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.

Source AFP