Hundreds of people were injured in Romania after anti-corruption protests turned violent. An estimated 100,000 people had joined the protest at Piata Victoriei in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, while tens of thousands more protested in other cities across the country. The protests were organized in opposition to government actions critics say will weaken the rule of law.
The people gathered throughout the day to express their anger at the government pushing through legislation that the protesters believe will undo anticorruption efforts. The protests started peacefully, but tensions grew as the day wore on. Demonstrators’ efforts to push back the police barricades were met with resistance and some among the crowd began to throw bottles and rocks at the police. Security forces began to forcibly clear the square, using tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the protesters.
Nearly 250 people, including protesters, journalists, and security personnel, were reported injured in the fracas. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis criticized the use of force as a “brutal intervention, strongly disproportionate to the actions of the majority of people.” He has called for the legality of the riot police’s intervention to be investigated by the attorney general.
Antigovernment demonstrations have become a regular occurrence in Romania. Most of the previous demonstrations saw few incidents of violence. In February of last year, nearly 500,000 Romanians turned out to protest the passage of laws that effectively decriminalized low-level corruption. Those laws are now being challenged in the country’s constitutional court.
The ruling Social Democratic Party, which assumed power in 2016, has been blamed for much of the corruption in the government. Transparency International calls Romania one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union. Last June, the United States and eleven other countries warned the Romanian government against amending legislation “that would weaken the rule of law or Romania’s ability to fight crime or corruption.” Those warnings have been ignored so far.