'We woke up in 1989' - Romanian graft decree turns back the clock

'We woke up in 1989' - Romanian graft decree turns back the clock

The European Union voiced concern on Wednesday at events in Romania, warning it must not backtrack on the fight against corruption after thousands protested in Bucharest against a government emergency decree slashing penalties for abuses.

The decree allows officials involved in graft with family members or involving amounts of less than 200,000 lei ($47,500) to avoid jail.

Romania's political crisis deepened Friday after a key government ally said an emergency decree that would dilute the government's anti-corruption fight was not constitutional.

Amid growing criticism of Romania from overseas, the country's president said Thursday he will ask judges to declare unconstitutional an emergency government decree that dilutes what qualifies as corruption.

Earlier this week, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and his deputy Frans Timmermans warned against "backtracking" - only a week after an EU report praised the government's efforts.

"There may even be talks to withdraw it if the Prime Minister agrees", he told news website DCNews.

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"To sustain Romania's credibility in the global community, and to remain attractive to investment and ensure continued economic growth, the United States calls on the Romanian government to reverse these actions", said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Iordache, who has come under heavy fire for publishing the decree, will temporarily hand his duties over to a subordinate, a spokeswoman said.

The decree approved last Tuesday has triggered the biggest street protests Romania has seen in years, and has also drawn global condemnation as a major step backwards on reforms.

Critics say the ordinance was ¿dedicated¿ to Dragnea who legally can¿t be prime minister as party supporters want, because of a two-year suspended sentence in April 2016 for vote rigging in connection with a referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu which failed due to low voter turnout. "I encourage them not to be intimidated by president Iohannis attacks", Dragnea said.

One immediate beneficiary would have been Liviu Dragnea, who leads the ruling PSD party and faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000.

As horns blasted and marching bands swirled around him, Iuliam said corruption has always been institutionalized in Romania. She said it was because he had a heavy workload preparing this year's budget. "This government has chosen to pass its ordinances secretly because it is afraid", said Martina, an global relations student at the demonstration in Bucharest, fearing a "backtrack" in the fight against corruption.