By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST The leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrats (PSD) said on Saturday the government might withdraw a graft decree that has triggered days of huge street protests and international rebuke.The order decriminalising some graft offences is seen as the biggest retreat on reforms since Romania joined the European Union in 2007. If enforced, it would decriminalize abuse-of-power offences involving sums below 200,000 lei ($48,000).Nationwide protests -- among the country's biggest since the 1989 fall of communist rule and the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena by firing squad -- entered a fifth day.More than 30,000 demonstrators, many carrying national flags, whistling and blowing horns, marched peacefully towards parliament and formed a human chain around the sprawling edifice, the world's second-largest administrative building after the Pentagon. "They want to take us maybe 50 years back into history. We can make a change and we have the power," said Andrei, a Romanian student who lives in Denmark but came to Bucharest to protest.As protesters demanded the decree be revoked, PSD party chief Liviu Dragnea -- viewed as the mastermind of the new government's policies -- said he would meet other senior party figures to look at ways to defuse the crisis."There may even be talks to withdraw it if the prime minister would want that," he told local news portal DCNews.
"I feel I can't keep under control from the centre anymore ... the pressure from regional organisations that can bring one million people onto the streets of Bucharest," Dragnea said in an exclusive interview.Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu was expected to make an announcement later on Saturday about the future of the decree, which has brought more than 300,000 protesters onto the streets on a daily basis since it was approved on Tuesday.The protests have rocked the new administration less than a month since it took office on Jan. 5.
PARTY LEADER'S TRIAL
If the decree takes force, it could put an end to the ongoing trial of Dragnea, accused of using his political influence to secure state salaries for two people working at his party headquarters between 2006 and 2013.Dozens of other political figures from all parties stand to benefit from the decree.
Together with long-standing junior ally ALDE, the PSD has an overwhelming majority in parliament. Grindeanu's government has rejected calls to rescind the decree, though splits in the cabinet emerged on Thursday with the resignation of a minister and a call from a vice-president of the PSD for the measure to be withdrawn.The PSD leader picked Grindeanu to head the government after Dragnea himself was barred by a previous vote-rigging conviction.Nine Western powers including Germany and the United States have said they are deeply concerned the decree could undermine Romania's partnerships in the EU and NATO.Romania, which hosts a U.S. anti-missile system, has struggled to combat endemic graft and remains among the poorest EU states. (Editing by Helen Popper)
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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 23:00 PM