BUCHAREST: Romania’s premier announced on Saturday a dramatic climbdown on legislation that had been seen as a retreat on corruption, after the biggest protests since dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed in 1989.
Demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure on the government, however, after five days of protests culminating in an estimated 330,000 people taking to the streets nationwide on Saturday.
Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said in a televised statement that the government would meet on Sunday to repeal an emergency decree that could have seen some corrupt officials escape prosecution.
“I do not want to divide Romania,” Grindeanu said at government headquarters in central Bucharest, sparking celebrations among the estimated 120,000 people protesting outside for a fifth evening in a row.
Raluca, a demonstrator in her 30s, said she was delighted but that the leftwing government, which has been in office for barely a month, was still not to be trusted.
“People are going to remain very vigilant with this government,” she told Agence France-Presse.
The decree, passed on Tuesday and due to enter into force on February 10, was to make abuse of power a crime only punishable by jail if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (44,000 euros, $47,500).
The government also wants in a separate decree to be reviewed by parliament next week to free some 2,500 people from prison serving sentences of less than five years.
Grindeanu, from the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD), had said that the measures were to bring penal law into line with the constitution and reduce overcrowding in prisons.
Critics had said that the real aim was to let off some of the several thousand officials and politicians ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive in recent years, many of them from the PSD.
Earlier this week Brussels, which had previously praised Romania for its efforts, warned against “backtracking.”
Washington also said it was “deeply concerned” about “accountability” for corruption crimes.