An estimated 125,000 people were protesting on Wednesday evening near the Government building in central Bucharest, less than 24 hours after the center-left government led by Sorin Grindeanu approved controversial amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code through an emergency government decision.
According to media reports, more than 300,000 people swarmed the streets of the major Romanian cities.
For instance, in the western city of Timisoara, around 15,000 people gathered in the Opera Square. In the eastern city of Iasi, an estimated number of 4,000 protesters had been recorded.
In Bucharest, a large share of people had protest signs with various messages against the government or for the continuation of the anti-corruption campaign. Some people were carrying the national flag.
The massive crowd of protesters was comprised of people of all ages, mainly young ones, but also families with smaller children and seniors. The people were protesting peacefully in the freezing cold. Occasionally, large groups of people shouted against the Social Democratic Party.
Some of the protesters have also called for the resignation of Grindeanu’s government, which has been sworn in at the beginning of January.
The main message of protesters was that the amendments to the Criminal Code have to be repealed. One of the approved changes partially decriminalizes the abuse in office.
Update: Some of the police officers were attacked with firecrackers, torches and rocks and some gendarmes were hurt, according to the spokesperson of the Romanian gendarmes. The representatives of the gendarmes told Digi24 TV that the people should leave the Victoriei Square because the police forces might come in to take control of the situation.
The main TV news stations claimed that football hooligans attacked the police forces.
International reactions pouring in
The head of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, Jean Claude-Junker, and several foreign embassies in Romania have expressed their concern following the approval of the amendments. Their common message was that such moves risk derailing the country from its anti-corruption course.
Some of the largest associations of foreign investors in Romania, such as the organizations representing American, German and French companies active locally, said in separate statements that such changes passed over night hurt Romania’s profile as an attractive and safe destination for foreign capital.
On Wednesday evening, the Embassies of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and the United States issued a common statement, warning that the changes to the Criminal Code “have undermined Romania’s progress on rule of law and the fight against corruption over the past ten years.”
“This act, in contravention to the collective wisdom of the entire judicial and rule of law community, credible elements of civil society, and the demonstrated concerns of Romanian citizens over the past two weeks, can only undermine Romania’s standing in the international community and risks damaging partnerships that are based on common values, inherent in the guiding principles of the EU and NATO. We hope the Government of Romania will reverse this unhelpful course. While amendments to existing laws and procedures are occasionally necessary, these changes should be made only in the process of comprehensive and credible consultation with all stakeholders,” said the embassies.
President Klaus Iohannis and opposition parties trying to stop the amendments
The approval of the amendments late into Tuesday night triggered a tough reaction from president Klaus Iohannis, who warned that the rule of law was endangered. He later asked the PM to repeal the amendments, which risk ruining the country’s anti-corruption efforts, according to the head of the anti-graft directorate DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi.
The Council of Superior Magistrates voted to challenge the amendments at the Constitutional Court.
Also, on Wednesday, the anti-system party USR and the liberal party PNL submitted a motion of no confidence against the government.
In late January, the president initiated procedures for the organization of a referendum over the continuation of Romania’s anti-graft campaign.