Romanian leaders reject US criticism of legal proposals

November 28, 2017

People gather in front of the government headquarters at the start of a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. Thousands have protested in Romania's capital and other major cities 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.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Leaders of Romania’s governing left-wing coalition on Tuesday brushed off U.S. concerns that planned legal changes could weaken efforts to punish high-level corruption.

Senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu and speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Liviu Dragnea said in a statement that Washington “should trust Romania’s Parliament, which is seeking to consolidate the independence of the justice system.”

The U.S. State Department on Monday urged Romania’s Parliament to “reject proposals that weaken the rule of law and endanger the fight against corruption.”

Romania has been praised for efforts to clamp down on high-level corruption in recent years. However, the left-wing government now wants to revamp the justice system in a way that could weaken the anti-corruption efforts and protect high-level figures from facing justice.

One proposal is to prevent Romania’s president from being allowed to block the appointment of key judges made by the government or Parliament, currently a key function of the presidency. Critics say the proposal would give too much power to Parliament, and President Klaus Iohannis says he will use his constitutional power to oppose the plan.

The ruling coalition’s plan has sparked protests, with tens of thousands demonstrating across Romania on Sunday.

Dragnea and Tariceanu called the U.S. statement “incomprehensible.”

They both face corruption-related prosecutions and claim that anti-corruption prosecutions are politically motivated.

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