On August 10th, tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the ruling Social Democrat (PSD) government in cities across Romania and in the capital Bucharest.
The anti-government protest drew tens of thousands of Romanians from abroad and local residents who demanded the government change laws that critics say would make it harder to prosecute corruption.
In Bucharest, on the Victoriei Square police warned in advance that they would not tolerate disorder. Despite the warnings, groups of protesters attempted to break through a security line. The protest turned violent after riot police fired tear gas and shot water cannons to quell the protesters. Some individuals threw rocks, bottles and smoke bombs at riot police.
At least 440 people were injured. Of those, as cited by RT, 24 were riot police. At least 65 people were transported to hospital, 9 of those were riot police, according to The Bucharest-Ilfov Emergency Service, cited by AP News. There have been no reports of life-threatening injuries.
The Centrist Romanian President Klaus Iohannis spoke against the police’s use of force. “I firmly condemn riot police’s brutal intervention, strongly disproportionate to the actions of the majority of people in the square,” he posted on his Facebook page. “The interior ministry must explain urgently the way it handled tonight’s events,” he continued.
The protest began at noon, when roughly 200 Romanians who live and work abroad gathered to protest corruption, low wages and attempts by the PSD to weaken the judiciary system. It eventually grew to a 60,000 people mass.
The protest was organized by diaspora associations, with Romanians living and working abroad waved Romanian and EU flags and chanted against the government and the PSD.
RT reported that at 5:00 pm the rally officially took off under the careful watch of authorities. At least 30 ambulances, three emergency services motorcycles and 13 fire engines were deployed for the August 10th’s rally.
An estimate of 3 to 5 million Romanians live and work abroad, the World Bank has reported, as cited by Reuters. They sent home almost $5 billion in 2017.
Peaceful protests have been held numerous times since the PSD took power in early 2017 and attempted to legalize several corrupt offences.
Earlier in 2018, the PSD tried to pass changes to the criminal code through parliament that raised concerns from the EU and the US State Department. The changes are pending Constitutional Court challenges.
Romania is ranked as one of the EU’s most corrupt countries and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.
Regarding the protest, Reuters cited unnamed politicians from the ruling party who ridiculed the protest and saying that they didn’t understand why the diaspora would protest.
BBC reported that on July 9th, President Klaus Iohannis approved the dismissal of anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, who had been leading investigations into local and national politicians. He was forced into the decision by a court ruling on May 30th.
On February 2nd, 2017, 150,000 Romanians gathered in Bucharest last year after the government passed a decree that could free those sent to jail on corruption charges.