Romanian lawmakers have cancelled plans to pardon corrupt officials after thousands of people took to the streets of Bucharest in protest on Wednesday evening.
The country’s MPs today voted down an amendment to a bill that would have granted an amnesty to high-profile individuals accused of graft-related offences, allowing them to avoid prosecution or have their jail terms cut.
At least 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside government buildings in the Romanian capital last night, waving EU and Nato flags and calling for ministers to resign. Smaller protests took place around the country in cities and towns including Brasov, Cluj, Constanta and Sibiu.
Blocking access to Victory Square, angry protestors shouted slogans such as “We have to defend the country from thieves!”, “If you don’t back down, we’re coming for you” and “Romania says no to pardons”.
The demonstrations erupted after a parliamentary committee yesterday rubber-stamped a draft law that would have pardoned scores of officials accused of offences including bribery, corruption and embezzlement.
Prior to the decision to reverse approval of the amendment, protestors called for further demonstrations this evening, followed by a march on the country’s parliament on Saturday afternoon.
The amendment was intended to relieve pressure on Romania’s overcrowded prison system, and would have cleared the way for jailed corrupt officials to have their sentences either cut in half or pardoned completely.
As protesters gathered last night, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea said the government did not support the pardoning of corruption offences, with the latter vowing on Facebook to make sure the amendment was not included in the final draft of the legalisation.
Tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets over the past few months to protest against government attempts to water down anti-corruption laws designed to target crooked officials.
At the beginning of February, more than 250,000 people attended anti-corruption demonstrations, which observers said were the largest protests the country had seen since the 1989 revolution.
Speaking with Al Jazeera as last night’s protests raged, Laura Stefan, an anti-corruption campaigner with the Romanian NGO Expert Forum, said: “This amendment goes way beyond what drove people into the streets this winter.
“This plan goes against all international obligations of Romania and against the will of the people that was so clearly expressed during previous demonstrations.”
Romania has long been viewed as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. Over recent years, various prosecutions have been launched against officials said to have taken kickbacks for awarding large public sector infrastructure contracts.
Despite having recently won praise for cleaning up its public institutions, Romania still ranks below all but three of its fellow EU nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.