Amid protests, Romania scraps proposed corruption bill

Protesters in Bucharest, Romania, turn on their cell phone lights en masse Sunday night.

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Proposed law would have decriminalized corruption and halted investigations into pending offenses

Nation has been rocked by days of massive street protests

CNN  — 

Amid ongoing nationwide protests, the Romanian government has scrapped a bill that would have protected many politicians from being prosecuted for corruption.

The official repeal of the corruption decree was announced Sunday in a government statement after an emergency meeting of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s Cabinet.

The announcement and a nationally televised address by the Prime Minister a day earlier did little to stem anger over the now-abandoned corruption decree.

Massive rallies were held across the nation on Sunday, including at Victory Square in the capital of Bucharest.

At 9 p.m., protesters turned on their cell phone lights and pointed them at the sky, creating a sea of bright pinpoints. They sang the national anthem and later went silent for five minutes in memory of the heroes of the 1989 revolution that overthrew Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu.

Sunday was the sixth straight day of protests.

Grindeanu said Saturday there were some problems in communicating the decree to the public. He said the justice minister, who championed the law, had taken full responsibility.

“I don’t want to divide Romania,” Grindeanu said Saturday.

“Romania cannot be torn apart. Romania in this moment due to what’s going on seems to be divided, but it’s my last wish to get to anything like that,” he said.

Concern over decree

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed concern over the new law this week.

“The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone,” he said. “We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern.”

The embassies of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States issued a joint statement echoing Juncker’s sentiments.

Grindeanu has tasked the Justice Ministry with getting the ball rolling to create a replacement law “that will align with [the] Constitutional Court decisions, European Union directives” and existing Romanian law.

Sunday’s government statement also said the Cabinet agreed to make public extracts of transcripts of lawmakers’ debates in months leading up to the corruption law.

Crowds wave Romanian flags outside the government headquarters during a protest in Bucharest.

The law, which would have taken effect in about a week, decriminalized corruption that causes damage worth less than about $48,000, or 200,000 lei. The law would have freed some officials imprisoned for corruption, halted all investigations for pending corruption offenses and prevented further cases related to these offenses from being brought to justice.

The decree would have benefited politicians such as Liviu Dragnea, president of the Social Democrat Party, which recently took power. Dragnea is under investigation over abuse of power allegations and had also previously received a two-year suspended sentence for an elections offense.

Journalist Cosmin Stan in Romania and CNN’s Ralph Ellis, Kara Fox, Marilia Brocchetto and Matthew Rehbein contributed to this article.