February 6, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania – About 250,000 demonstrators were on the streets of Bucharest last night calling for the resignation of the Romanian government in the biggest national protest since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship in 1989.

It was the sixth consecutive night that people had been on the streets. The protests were triggered by an emergency order passed by the Social Democratic government that would have decriminalised corruption offences, including financial abuse amounting to less than 200,000 lei (£38,000). The law was rushed through in the night without debate, prompting a minister and other officials to resign and creating a rift with President Iohannis.

That bill was repealed in an embarrassing climbdown yesterday, but still more people joined the protest outside the main government building. The number of protesters across the country was estimated to be 500,000.

The legislation would have paved the way for Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democrats, to take office. He was unable to become prime minister in December because of charges of defrauding the state of 109,000 lei (£21,000), and appointed Sorin Grindeanu in his stead.

Mr Grindeanu introduced the bill and repealed it, but his retreat did little to quell displeasure.

“They should resign because as the saying goes: once a thief, always a thief,” Florin Haszlar, a 47-year-old IT developer in the crowd, said. People of all ages gathered, raising the torches on their mobile phones to show their discontent while chants of “thieves” and “resign, resign, resign” rang through the crowds. “We don’t trust this government,” said 48-year-old Laurentiu Florin, who protested as a student during the 1989 revolution. “One month after coming to power they’ve lost all credibility. After 27 years people have started to understand how democracy works and we want to take our country back.”

“I want them to resign because they don’t care about the people,” Irina Purda, a 25-year-old interior architect, said. “We want to let them know we don’t agree with what they’re doing, and with them the corruption always grows in this country.”

“I will not resign,” Mr Grindeanu said last night as pressure built. The government was expected to draft new legislation to go before parliament.

About 2,000 pro-government protesters were also on the streets. When Romania joined the EU in 2007 it was put under a special corruption monitoring scheme and won praise for tackling abuses of power. Germany and the United States expressed concern that the decree would undermine its membership of the EU and Nato.