40,000 Romanians protest against amnesty bill

A man holds a Romanian national flag during a demonstration to protest against controversial decrees to pardon corrupt politicians and decriminalise other offences, on Jan 29, 2017. — AFP
People take part in a demonstration to protest against controversial decrees to pardon corrupt politicians and decriminalise other offences, on Jan 29, 2017. — AFP

BUCHAREST: Around 40,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Bucharest and other Romanian towns Sunday, to protest controversial decrees to pardon corrupt politicians and decriminalise other offences.

The biggest march, some 20,000 strong, was in the Romanian capital with numerous families turning out, including children and dogs in some cases.

The crowd, waving national flags, chanted "Romania wake up!", "Down with the thieves" and other slogans.

Earlier this month the social-democratic government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu published two emergency decrees to set free inmates serving sentences of up to five years for non-violent crimes.

If the decrees are adopted, about 2,500 people, including several elected officials and magistrates who are behind bars after being convicted of corruption, will be released.

Grindeanu wants to implement the measures through emergency ordinances that would bypass parliament.

"It isn't normal to free thieves. It's a bad message to send to our children," Anca, a 32-year-old mother of two said.

Justice Minister Florin Iordache has defended the proposals, saying they would help ease pressure on overcrowded jails.

The protesters in Bucharest on Sunday passed the justice ministry building, shouting "resign".

In the western city of Cluj some 10,000 people joined other protests which followed similar, but smaller, demonstrations the previous Sunday.

Thousands more marched in the central town of Sibiu and northeastern Iasi.

The planned measures have been heavily criticised by several Romanian officials and institutions, including the attorney general Augustin Lazar, anti-corruption chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, and High Court president Cristina Tarcea.

In its 2015 annual report, the European Commission, which is closely monitoring justice reforms in Romania, warned against any proposals that seek to "pardon individuals convicted on corruption charges". — AFP