Protesters block setting-up of Christmas fair on Bucharest square

Demonstrators against controversial judicial reform in Romania use site of fair for rallies

People hold a large EU  flag during a protest joined by hundreds in Bucharest on Sunday night.  Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

People hold a large EU flag during a protest joined by hundreds in Bucharest on Sunday night. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP

 

Romanians have vowed to continue protesting against government plans for judicial reform, after scuffling with police to block the construction of a Christmas fair on a Bucharest square where demonstrators now regularly rally.

Hundreds of people marched again in Romania’s capital and several other cities on Sunday night to denounce proposed changes that critics say would weaken anti-corruption legislation and boost political control over the courts.

On Saturday, about 100 people tussled with police and stopped workers erecting a Christmas market outside government headquarters on Victory Square, where Bucharest’s council had banned demonstrations for most of December.

“Our victory came through effort, self-control and especially the belief that we are fighting together for a good cause,” protest group Corruption Kills said after Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea agreed to relocate the market.

“There is more to do before we can say we have won the battle against corruption, abuse, illegality and injustice. But today’s victory was important.”

Ms Firea, a member of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), complained that “it is impossible to hold an event approved by city hall because of the verbal and physical aggression of some protesters . . . This is the beginning of anarchy.”

Anti-corruption law

Tens of thousands of people rallied on Victory Square last Sunday, and earlier this year it witnessed Romania’s biggest protests since the 1989 anti-communist revolution, as huge crowds marched against a government bid to change anti-corruption law.

The government scrapped that plan, but now it wants to give the justice minister more power to appoint and sack prosecutors and to oversee the work of magistrates; to shrink the remit of Romania’s anti-corruption prosecutor; and to allow a person with a criminal conviction to become president.

Critics call the proposals a blatant bid to ease pressure on corrupt figures in politics and business, and potentially to allow PSD leader Liviu Dragnea to become president despite a 2012 conviction for vote rigging.

Last month, Mr Dragnea’s assets were frozen after he was accused of embezzling EU and other funds from state projects. He denies the charges.

The EU and United States have criticised Romania’s reform plans and urged it to intensify the fight with corruption.

The PSD is also riven by divisions: prime minister Mihai Tudose has admitted to having a difficult relationship with Mr Dragnea and he called Ms Firea’s plan for a Christmas market on Victoria Square “not the most inspired decision”.