Ro­ma­nian pres­i­dent praises pro­test­ers

Cape Breton Post - - WORLD -

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.

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