BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian court ruled Friday that the speaker of the Senate, accused of making false statements in a property fraud case, can go on trial. The news came as thousands of Romanians protested in Bucharest for the 11th straight day over government efforts to ease penalties for corrupt officials.
The High Court of Cassation and Justice rejected an appeal by speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu, who argued there were insufficient grounds for his trial. No date was set for the trial to begin.
Last year, prosecutors charged Tariceanu with making false statements under oath and hampering the investigation into a suspected fraudulent land restitution case. He had denied knowledge of connections between a Romanian prince and a politically connected businessman and others.
Romania has seen massive protests in the last two weeks against a government decree that would have diluted the anti-corruption fight that has targeted top officials. The Social Democrat-led government has withdrawn the emergency decree easing penalties for corrupt officials, but has vowed to craft a version of it to be passed by parliament, where it has a majority.
The decree that was withdrawn would have also eased penalties for a vote-rigging conviction for the Social Democrats' leader, Liviu Dragnea, which has been blocking him from becoming prime minister.
Tariceanu is also a strong critic of Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors' agency, which he accuses of overstepping its authority.
Thousands protested for an 11th consecutive night Friday in the Romanian capital, standing outside government offices in the bitter cold blowing vuvuzelas or waving Romanian, European Union or U.S. flags. Some demonstrators carried banners saying "Resign" while others wore white armbands inscribed #resist.
Earlier, hundreds of government supporters had protested outside the presidential palace against President Klaus Iohannis, whom they blame for the country's political crisis, calling for his resignation. Iohannis has expressed support for protesters and champions the anti-graft fight that has targeted Romania's rich and powerful.
In Romania, the president is elected separately from the parliament and Iohannis was head of the center-right Liberal Party before becoming president in 2014.
The justice minister resigned Thursday over the unrest, but more protests are forecast for the weekend, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of the whole government.
"I'm here tonight because I care about this country," said Peter Ionescu, who was demonstrating Friday night in Bucharest's Victory Square. "I want the fight against corruption to continue in this country. I don't want laws for the criminals. I don't want laws for the people who can steal or who can abuse (power)."