A day after 100,000 supporters of Romania’s Social Democratic party protested against what they see as a misuse of power by anti-corruption prosecutors, 3,000 people gathered at the same spot on Sunday for an opposing rally, the Associated Press reported.
The Sunday crowd yelled “Justice, not corruption!” and some protesters said the government was hijacking the justice system after it had removed the country’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor.
The day before, pro-Social Democrat protesters, all dressed in white, claimed anti-corruption prosecutors and Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, who supports the anti-corruption fight, have too much power.
Some pro-government participants told the Associated Press that they thought anti-corruption prosecutors were illegally tapping into their phones and unjustly targeting officials.
The protests this weekend are the result of previous demonstrations and corruption-focused politics that began in 2017 when the Social Democratic government passed an emergency ordinance that decriminalized several corruption offences, including cases when the financial damage was less than 200,000 lei (US$50,000), according to The Guardian.
Many critics believed that it would reverse internationally praised anti-corruption efforts made in December 2016, which managed to successfully prosecute 713 officials accused of corruption, including 28 mayors and a senator, according to the Associated Press.
A series of anti-government street protests followed, forcing the Social Democrats to withdraw the decree, Reuters said.
The European Union closely monitors Romania’s justice system as it is one of the most corrupt states in the EU, according to Reuters.
Romania is ranked 59 out of 180 countries by Transparency International, and they score 48 out of 100 for perceived level of public sector corruption (0 is highly corrupt).
Party leader Liviu Dragnea repeatedly accused anti-government prosecutors of political persecution, warning supporters that everyone, not just high-ranking officials, are targets.
“Nobody is safe. Absolutely everyone can be targeted by a tip-off which could lead to a conviction,” Dragnea said according to Reuters.
However Dragnea has his own history of corruption. He has been convicted of vote-rigging in past elections, which barred him from becoming Prime Minister. He is currently on trial for keeping two women on the payroll of a state agency in 2006-2013, even though they were employed by his party, and he is being investigating for money laundering EU funds, according to the New York Times.