Thousands protest Romania’s tax, justice laws

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Thousands have protested in Romania’s capital and other major cities Sunday against planned changes to the justice system they say will allow high-level corruption to go unpunished and a tax overhaul that could lead to lower wages.

Protesters briefly scuffled with mounted police in Bucharest, and they blew whistles and called the ruling Social Democratic Party “the red plague,” in reference to its Communist Party roots and one of the party’s colors.

Thousands took to the streets in the cities of Cluj, Timisoara, Iasi, Brasov, Sibiu and Constanta to vent their anger at the left-wing government. In Bucharest, thousands marched to Romania’s Parliament.

Sunday’s protest was the biggest since massive anti-corruption protests at the beginning of the year, the largest since the fall of communism in Romania. Media reported tens of thousands took to the streets around the country, but no official figures were available.

Demonstrations earlier this year erupted after the government moved to decriminalize official misconduct. The government eventually scrapped the ordinance, after more than two weeks of daily demonstrations.

Prosecutors recently froze party leader Liviu Dragnea’s assets amid a probe into the misuse of 21 million euros (about $25 million) in European Union funds.

The European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, says the money was fraudulently paid to officials and others from the European Regional Development Fund for road construction in Romania. It asked Romania to recover the funds.

Dragnea denies wrongdoing and has appealed the ruling to freeze his assets. He is unable to be prime minister because of a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging.

Vasile Grigore, a 42-year-old doctor, said “we don’t want our country to be run by people who are being prosecuted, incompetent and uneducated.”

It was the latest protest this year over government plans to revamp the justice system. One proposal is to legally prevent Romania’s president from blocking the appointment of key judges. President Klaus Iohannis says he will use constitutional means to oppose the plan.

Demonstrators also oppose a law that will shift social security taxes to the employee. The government says it will boost revenues.

Anca Preoteasa, 28, who works in sales, accused the government of wanting “to take over the justice system so they can resolve their legal problems, but we won’t accept this.”