After 500,000 people took to the streets, the government withdrew controversial decree
Plans to protect politicians charged with corruption are still in the works
Demonstrations are expected to continue in Romania today despite a temporary government retreat over a bill that would have protected many politicians from being prosecuted for corruption.
On Sunday – when an estimated half a million protesters took to the streets – a government statement was issued repealing the decree, which had been approved Tuesday without input from the country’s parliament.
This did little to stem anger as Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu still appears determined to push through the amendments to the criminal codes. He has asked the country’s justice minister, Florin Iordache, to prepare a draft law which is similar to the controversial decree. The proposed legislation will be sent to parliament for approval following public consultation.
In a statement reported by the Romanian national news agency, Agerpres, Monday, Iordache said: “We will develop and post a regulatory act. Before we move further, all experts and whoever wants to, will have the opportunity to express a point of view.”
’Government should resign’
Businessman Cosmin Alexandru, 47, has participated in the protests over the past six days, which have been the largest demonstrations Romania has seen for decades.
He told CNN Monday: “The ordinance has been withdrawn but has now been introduced almost unchanged into the parliamentary process. They did not withdraw it because they considered it wrong but because of the pressure.”
“The only reasonable outcome for me is the government resigning and either put a better government in place or call an election,” he added.
He expects, however, that the draft law will eventually be passed.
The original decree, which would have taken effect in about a week, decriminalized corruption that causes damage worth less than about 200,000 Romanian lei, or $48,000.
This could have benefited politicians such as Liviu Dragnea, president of the Social Democrat Party, which recently took power. Dragnea is under investigation over abuse of power allegations and had also previously received a two-year suspended sentence for an elections offense.
The new draft law, while similar to the controversial decree, does eliminate the section that decriminalized damage worth less than 200,000 lei.
Half a million protesters
Meanwhile a separate item of legislation, which is currently being considered by the Romanian parliament, would – if approved – free some officials imprisoned for corruption, halt all investigations for pending corruption offenses and prevent further cases related to these offenses from being brought to justice.
Local television stations reported that protests across Romania attracted 500,000 to 600,000 people – with at least half of them gathering in Victory Square, Bucharest. However, the Romanian interior ministry declined to provide any official figures when contacted by CNN.
There were smaller protests by Romanians in other capital cities around Europe including London on Sunday, where 500 people gathered outside the Romanian Cultural Institute.
Demonstrators Răzvan and Diana Ungureanu, a young couple with two children, were among those who gathered in Bucharest.
Diana told CNN: “We won’t give up. We don’t trust them (the government) anymore so they have to leave.”
Her husband added: “It feels like we can’t go home anymore because you’re afraid they’re going to do something else overnight and we don’t want such surprises.”
Adriana Cristea, a young mother of a nine-month-old baby, said: “I left my newborn home with my husband and I came here to protest. I will do that again and again as much as needed.”
“I don’t want lies and this is why I am here. We want honest people in all public institutions. No more corruption, at all,” she added.
More demonstrations likely
Another demonstration is expected in Bucharest Monday evening amid calls for the resignation of the ruling coalition government led by Grindeanu.
Protester Daniel Iordan, a father of two, told CNN Sunday: “This government has to leave. We don’t believe anything they say any more.”
The opposition has already submitted a censure motion in parliament in order to remove the government from office. This is slated for debate on Wednesday but is not expected to succeed, as the coalition – made up of the center-left Social Democratic Party and a smaller party – holds a majority in the Parliament.
Grindeanu told lawmakers Monday that he will not resign.
Cristiana Moisescu also contributed to this report.