Romania Prime Minister: I may fire justice minister over graft decree

Although the government repealed the measure Sunday, the protest its move sparked continued Monday

AP Photo/Darko Bandic
A man with a child waves a Romanian flag during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. The leader of Romania's ruling center-left coalition said Monday the government won't resign following the biggest demonstrations since the end of communism against a measure that would ease up on corruption.

Romania's prime minister said Monday he may fire the justice minister for mishandling a contentious decree that has sparked the country's largest anti-government protests since communism ended.

Premier Sorin Grindeanu said the emergency decree to decriminalize some official misconduct approved by his cabinet last week had "led to division" among Romanians. Grindeanu suggested Justice Minister Florin Iordache may lose his job over the move within days.

Although the government repealed the measure Sunday, the unrest its move sparked continued Monday. Thousands of people gathered outside the government offices for the seventh consecutive evening, yelling "Resignation!" and waving Romanian flags.

Elsewhere, hundreds of government supporters gathering outside the presidential palace in the Romanian capital blaming President Klaus Iohannis for the crisis. The president has strongly opposed the ordinance.

Anti-government protester Sebastian Moruga, a Bucharest resident who worked in England for 12 years, said he wanted change.

"It's not just corruption, it's bad public services. It's the fact that you can't take your kid to a hospital without paying a bribe, you can't take them to school without paying bribe. You can't have a decent road outside your house. And of course, it's the tremendous wealth of the politicians," Moruga said.

On the political front, the prime minister said, he would not fire the justice minister "in the next two days," noting that the government could be toppled if a motion of no-confidence to be debated this week passes in Parliament.

Social Democratic chairman Liviu Dragnea earlier said he supported the government, but by evening he said he would back the premier if Grindeanu decides to sack the justice minister.

There were signs Monday that the government may not push ahead immediately with the measure to ease anti-corruption laws. Mass demonstrations have been held in Bucharest and other cities since the ordinance was introduced on Tuesday and approved early Wednesday.

Cabinet ministers repealed their emergency ordinance on Sunday following six days of street protests that were the largest Romania has seen since communism was overthrown in 1989.

The ordinance would have decriminalized abuse in office by officials if the amount involved was less than about $48,500. It plans to introduce another version of the law in Parliament, where it has a majority.

However, in a sign of second thoughts, Iordache, the justice minister, later said in a statement he was "not preoccupied" with drawing up a draft law.

"Currently, the justice minister is focusing on the decisions published by the Constitutional Court...which will be analyzed in the near future," the statement said.

The Constitutional Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the decriminalizing proposal later this week.

Dragnea, the major power broker in the government, is banned from being prime minister because of conviction in April 2016 for vote rigging.

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