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Hundreds Hurt As Romanian Police Scuffle With Anticorruption Protesters

Romanian police clashed with demonstrators at an antigovernmental protest in Bucharest.
Romanian police clashed with demonstrators at an antigovernmental protest in Bucharest.

Hundreds of anticorruption protesters in Bucharest were hurt as they clashed with riot police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a crowd of tens of thousands rallying mostly peacefully on the city's main square.

The violent turn towards the end of rallies on August 10 that drew as many as 100,000 protesters onto the streets of Romania's cities demanding a new government was denounced by center-right President Klaus Iohannis, who accused the police of using "disproportionate" force.

"I firmly condemn riot police's brutal intervention, strongly disproportionate to the actions of the majority of people in the square," he said on his Facebook page.

"The Interior Ministry must explain urgently the way it handled tonight's events."

But Iohannis also suggested that protesters who sought to break through police lines guarding Bucharest's government buildings and who threw rocks and stones at the police, injuring some officers, also deserved some blame.

"Any form of violence is unacceptable," he said.

The demonstrators, many of whom live abroad and returned for the rally, had demanded that the left-wing government resign and that early elections be called.

Protesters around Bucharest’s Victoriei Square waved Romanian and European Union flags, shouting "Justice, not corruption!"

Media estimated the crowd at 30,000-80,000 in Bucharest, with tens of thousands more demonstrating in other cities. No official figures were available.

Other Romanian cities that took part in the protests included Cluj, Brasov, Sibiu, Timisoara, and Galati.

The demonstrations in Bucharest turned violent late on August 10 as riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse what the police said were "provocateurs" who joined the rallies.

Some protesters attempted to force their way through security lines guarding the government building. Others threw bottles and stones at police.

Video footage posted on social media show police beating some nonviolent protesters holding their hands up.

More than 400 people required medical assistance, the emergency intervention agency ISU said, including 10 riot police injured by protesters.

There were also several arrests outside the seat of government in the capital.

The rallies had featured thousands of Romanian expatriates returning from their homes abroad.

Some of the estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages, and lack of opportunities. A campaign calling for the protest was launched on Facebook.

After winning power in 2016, the Social Democrats (PSD) attempted to decriminalize several corruption offenses through an emergency decree, leading to thousands of Romanians taking to the streets in protest and forcing the party to back down.

Iohannis, the European Commission, and the U.S. State Department criticized the proposed changes to judicial legislation, saying they could derail the rule of law.

Iohannis has been at loggerheads with the PSD, accusing it of attempting to weaken the fight against corruption, putting pressure on the judicial system, and of implementing bad fiscal policies.

Iohannis in July signed a decree to remove the popular chief anticorruption prosecutor from her post.

He praised Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi for her efforts and said he was forced to sign the decree after being ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court.

Under Kovesi's leadership, corruption conviction rates rose sharply in one of the EU's most corruption-plagued members.

The push to oust her was criticized by the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service, AP, DW, AFP, Reuters, and Romania-Insider