Clashes over rushed decree

By AP

Romanian riot police detain a man in Bucharest. Photo / AP
Romanian riot police detain a man in Bucharest. Photo / AP

Protesters and riot police clashed sporadically in Romania's capital as tens of thousands demonstrated against the Government for decriminalising some official misconduct, a move that critics at home and abroad called a major a setback for the anti-corruption fight.

A handful of protesters threw firecrackers and smoke bombs at police guarding the main government offices, who responded with tear gas. At least one person was detained and a newspaper kiosk was set on fire.

Emergency situations official Raed Arafat said two police officers and two demonstrators were treated at hospitals for minor injuries.

It was the second consecutive night of protests against the Government, whose adoption of an emergency ordinance that decriminalises abuse in office went against widespread protests and warnings from prosecutors and the president.

The ordinance was published in the official government monitor at 3am local time.

The coalition Government has been in office for less than a month and the ordinance benefits its allies and Romanian officials facing corruption charges. "It shows that the Government is willing to use backdoor methods with no scrutiny or checks and balances in order to protect and promote itself," said Dan Brett, an associate professor at the Open University.

There were protests in a half dozen cities around Romania.

President Klaus Iohannis, who has limited powers and doesn't oversee the Government, called the measure's adoption "a day of mourning for the rule of law".

The leaders of the centre-left Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Liberals, which form the coalition, both face corruption charges that bar them from serving as ministers.

Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea was unable to become prime minister because in April 2016 he received a two-year suspended jail sentence for vote rigging. On Wednesday, he went on trial for abuse of power while he was president of the Teleorman local council from 2006 to 2012. He denies wrongdoing.

Justice Minister Florin Iordache said the emergency ordinance will decriminalise cases of official misconduct in which the damages are valued at less than 200,000 lei (US$47,800). The Supreme Council of Magistrates unanimously agreed to take the emergency decree to the Constitutional Court, which is the last legal resort to stop the law.

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