Romanian president praises protesters
Corruption can’t be stopped, but it must be controlled, even in a country where the abuse of power is a legacy of communist days. That’s the message of Romania’s president after a tumultuous week of protests derailed a government plan to weaken corruption laws by decree.
Klaus Iohannis told The Associated Press Wednesday that the fight to contain corruption in his country shows the “ugly face of politics” and praised protesters for standing up to block a government measure that would have eased up on public officials who abuse their power.
Massive street protests have for the moment halted the emergency decree that would have removed penalties for some graft if the amount involved was less than about $48,500.
Iohannis, 57, said he was pleased that protesters made their opposition known in peaceful demonstrations that spread from the capital Bucharest to other parts of the country.
“I was surprised by the size of the crowd,” he said. “Having over 200,000 people in Piata Victoriei (Victory Square) is something extraordinary.”
On Wednesday evening, several thousand braved a snowstorm to demonstrate against the government for the ninth day in a row in a central square.
A smaller, pro-government protest took place outside the presidential palace. Iohannis briefly interacted with protesters while aides offered them hot tea.
Iohannis, who was elected in 2014 by direct vote, was chairman of the opposition Liberal Party until he quit to seek the presidency, a post with limited powers.
He has been critical of the government headed by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, which came into being after the December parliamentary elections.
He said widespread corruption is a stubborn remnant of the country’s communist past, which ended with the 1989 popular uprising that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
“It’s certainly not going to finish in a year or two or four,” Iohannis said at the ornate 17th Century presidential palace. “Intense anti-corruption fighting is not something nice.
It brings up the ugly face of society we want to eradicate. But it takes time.”
He said corruption would never stop but it could be greatly slowed, with fewer politicians and public employees tempted to exploit their positions in the face of increased prosecution and public resistance.