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Romania govt to keep decree weakening anti-graft fight despite protests

05 February 2017

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Romania to demonstrate against an emergency decree that will decriminalise some corruption offences.

The shakeup comes a day after some 250,000 people took to the streets in cities around Romania to protest the measure, in the biggest demonstrations since the fall of the communist government in 1989.

Like many of those protesting in Bucharest on Friday night, Musat felt his condemnations would continue to be dismissed by the government.

The president said he would challenge the government's decree in court, while the business minister has resigned over the measure.

It could have also put an end to the ongoing trial of Liviu Dragnea, the head of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), who is viewed as the real power behind Grindeanu's government.

But critics say the principal person to gain will be PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, 54, now on trial for alleged abuse of power involving 24,000 euros and who already barred from office for a previous conviction for voter fraud. "The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone".

Six countries including Germany and the USA issuing warnings the decree would damage Romania's global reputation and its European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership.

The PSD has only just returned to power after handsomely winning elections on December 11 promising to boost salaries and pensions in the EU's second-poorest country.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern".

"There may even be talks to withdraw it if the Prime Minister agrees", he told news website DCNews.

The architect of the decree, Justice Minister Florin Iordache, added to the intrigue by announcing he was ceding his duties to his deputy until 7 February, Reuters says. Among those critics is Romania's anti-corruption czar, Laura Codruța Kövesi, who calls the decree a blank check for legislators to abuse public office.

Some analysts say the government hopes the court will overturn the most contentious elements of the decree.

The Romanian government has ordered a crackdown on protesters, with reports of police firing tear gas into crowds in Bucharest after demonstrators threw bottles, firecrackers and stones at security forces.

The government said it was bringing legislation into line with the constitution and reducing overcrowding in prisons.

"With prison sentences of less than five years, investigators can not use technical surveillance or wiretapping, nor temporary arrest warrants", Stefan told Reuters, making it more hard to amass evidence.