7 February 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania – Thousands of protesters were converging on the centre of Bucharest last night to call for the resignation of the government after it was forced to climb down over plans to decriminalise many corruption offences.

The country has been hit by the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989. Every night for the past week people across Romania have protested against an emergency order on corruption issued by the Social Democrat-led government that was regarded as self-serving. Liviu Dragnea, the party’s leader, was among those who would have benefited from the changes, which the government repealed on Sunday.

The U-turn did little to placate demonstrators and about 250,000 converged in front of the main government building shouting “thieves” and “resign, resign, resign”. Aura Soaghir, 27, a PR worker, said: “I want to live in a democracy, not in a state that exerts its full power in a totalitarian manner.” Yesterday the opposition, the National Liberal Party and the Union to Save Romania (USR), filed a no-confidence motion to be debated tomorrow.

Sorin Grindeanu, the prime minister, and his cabinet are being held responsible for the unrest.

The Social Democrats, the successors to the ruling party of the communist era, came to power after winning elections in December.

Clotilde Armand, vice-president of USR, said: “We don’t trust the government . . . there’s a huge gap in Romanian society: those who want to be more like western Europe and the political class who doesn’t understand that things have changed.”

The ruling party’s attempt to decriminalise abuse of office involving less than 200,000 lei (£38,000) has angered people who view it as an affront to democracy.

The prime minister has insisted that he will not go and is confident of defeating the motion. Instead, the government is planning to dismiss the justice minister. Mr Dragnea, who was given a suspended jail sentence for vote rigging, also said that his party had no reason to step down.