Romania justice minister quits over anti-graft law protests

AP News
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Posted: Feb 09, 2017 3:02 PM
Romania justice minister quits over anti-graft law protests

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's justice minister resigned Thursday following mass protests over a law that eases criminal penalties for government officials engaged in corruption.

His departure did not appear to have much effect on thousands who protested in Victory Square for the tenth consecutive day, lighting up high-rise buildings in the square with the slogans #exist and #resist, waving Romanian flags and yelling "Resignation!"

A smaller crowd of government supporters also gathered outside the presidential palace to rail at President Klaus Iohannis, who backs the anti-graft fight.

Earlier, Justice Minister Florin Iordache defended his tenure and the emergency decree that reduced the penalties for corruption, saying all his initiatives were "legal and constitutional" but had failed to placate "public opinion."

Romania's two-month-old Social Democrat-led coalition government withdrew the contentious decree this week to decriminalize some forms of official misconduct after hundreds of thousands protested for days in cities around Romania.

Protesters said the measure diluted the anti-corruption fight that has targeted Romania's rich and powerful.

The ordinance would have decriminalized abuse in office by officials if the amount involved was less than $48,500. Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said the government plans to introduce another version of the law in parliament with input from Romanian and European experts.

Melescanu insisted the government remained committed to fighting graft while also respecting the rights of suspects facing charges.

"The fight against corruption ...will continue to be one of the priories of the Romanian government," he told reporters. "We respect all the (judicial) institutions ... in Romania, provided they also respect the separation of powers in a democratic society."

The government survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday in parliament, where it has a solid majority.

European Affairs Minister Ana Birchall was named interim justice minister late Thursday.

In a related development, the Constitutional Court said it wouldn't rule on whether the ordinance was constitutional as requested by the ombudsman because the decree had been withdrawn.