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Anti-government protests spread across Romania

Romania, the country that holds the EU rotating Council presidency, is in the grip of new anti-government protests.

A series of local Public Prosecutor’s Offices across the country have ceased all activity until until the 1st of March, protesting against the Socialist-led government, while Thousands of protestors have gathered on Sunday in Bucharest and other Romanian big cities.

The activity of the Public Prosecutor’s Offices from the cities of Cluj, Piteşti, Constanţa şi Timişoara is suspended as of Monday. All across the country, prosecutors and magistrates clerks are protesting because the judiciary has not been consulted before the government announced an emergency ordinance (OUG) that brings several changes to the justice laws previously adopted by the Parliament and promulgated by president Klaus Iohannis.

The Romanian Union of Judges (UNJR), as well as the Romanian Asociation of Magistrates (AMR) have also criticised the forced changes in the law.

Protesters took to the streets on Sunday: 15,000 in Bucharest, 7000 in Cluj, 5000 in Sibiu and 2000 in Brașov. The Bucharest Police called Sunday’s protest “illegal”, saying the rules were not respected and the conditions not fulfilled. It took place nevertheless, without incidents,

According to one of the most important changes brought to the justice laws by an emergency ordinance, those who will be appointed to run the top prosecution offices in Romania will be required to have an experience of at least 15 years in the judiciary, up from eight years at the present. This change targets the Prosecutor General, his deputy and first deputy, as well as the chief prosecutors of the National Anticorruption Department (DNA) and the anti-organized crime directorate DIICOT.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, who is seen as being able to impose any change in law, without consultation, in the hope of having the Socialist party boss, Liviu Dragnea, acquitted of all charges and previous condemnations, said he plans to start the legal mechanism to replace the Attorney General, Augustin Lazar, whose mandate ends in April.

Toader asked the President in September 2018 to fire Lazar, seen as an obstacle to the current government, accusing him of abuse of office based on an internal investigation conducted by the ministry. President Iohannis refused to dismiss Lazar.

The government is also frantically trying to block the selection procedure for the job of European Prosecutor for the former chief of the powerful National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Codruta Kovesi.

Koevesi was dismissed by the government last year in what critics say was a move to prevent the DNA from convicting senior members of the governing alliance.

Koevesi has been widely praised by the EU for her results in fighting graft in one of the bloc’s most corrupt countries.

Romania, which currently holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, needs to “very urgently put the reform process back on track” and abstain “from steps which reverse progress” in fighting corruption, the European Commission said.

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