BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president urged the government on Monday to scrap a proposal to pardon thousands of prisoners, a move which has led to major anti-government protests.
President Klaus Iohannis spoke after tens of thousands of people marched through Romania's capital and other cities on Sunday to protest the initiative, which critics say could reverse anti-corruption efforts.
It was the third large-scale protest to erupt in Romanian cities after Premier Sorin Grindeanu requested an emergency ordinance allowing the government to pardon prisoners to ease prison overcrowding.
Iohannis posted a message on Facebook on Monday, urging the government again to drop the initiative, and said: "The voice of the people can no longer be ignored."
Justice Minister Florin Iordache defended the proposal, saying it was meant to improve the situation in prisons, adding the government would modify its initial proposal to eliminate unclear passages. He denied the measure was designed to benefit politicians, a number of which have been targeted by the anti-corruption drive in recent years.
"I want to make it clear that neither rapists nor murderers, not those accused of corruption will benefit," he said.
The German Embassy in Bucharest said Monday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Iohannis on Friday, saying "diluting the anti-corruption fight and making the rule of law a relative thing" would send "an absolutely wrong signal."
Critics say the proposal could benefit party allies convicted of corruption, including the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea. He was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence for vote rigging in April 2016, which bans him from being prime minister, something he calls unfair.
Romania's top prosecutor has also criticized the plan, which magistrates say should be debated in Parliament. It would primarily affect people serving sentences of less than five years, except those convicted of sexual or violent crimes.
Prisoners over age 60, pregnant women and inmates with young children would see their sentences halved regardless of the charges on which they were convicted.
Prison authorities estimate 3,700 prisoners could be released, while the justice minister said Monday up to 3,000 could be freed.