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Romania scraps corruption decree, but protesters keep up pressure

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Romania scrapped Sunday a contentious corruption decree in a climbdown after the biggest mass demonstrations since 1989, but protesters kept up pressure by taking to the streets for a sixth straight day.

[BUCHAREST] Romania scrapped Sunday a contentious corruption decree in a climbdown after the biggest mass demonstrations since 1989, but protesters kept up pressure by taking to the streets for a sixth straight day.

As thousands of people gathered in Bucharest and elsewhere, the government announced it had approved a repeal of the decree that would have decriminalised certain corruption offences.

This fulfilled the promise made late on Saturday by a pale and tired-looking Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu after a fifth day of demonstrations that were the largest since the ouster of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

But the announcement didn't stop demonstrators gathering again on Sunday to make it clear to Grindeanu and his left-wing government, which has been in office only a month, that they were on thin ice and that corruption must be rooted out.

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"I hope that this is a real repeal... We are going to keep an eye on them to make sure we are not being had," said protester Daniel, 35.

"Today we are going to break new records," electrician Florian, 40, told AFP in Bucharest, distributing free pretzels and tea at Victory Square, the epicentre of this week's protests.

By midafternoon, around a thousand people could be seen gathering in the square and the crowd was expected to swell later with buses arriving from outside the capital.

Again they brandished placards, chanted and blew whistles and plastic vuvuzela horns in the national colours of blue, yellow and red. Later in the evening they were all to sing the national anthem.

The decree, passed Tuesday and due to enter into force on February 10, was to make abuse of power a crime only punishable by jail if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (44,000 euros, US$47,500).

The government also wants in a separate decree to be reviewed by parliament next week to free some 2,500 people from prison serving sentences of less than five years.

Mr Grindeanu, from the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD), had said that the measures were to bring penal law into line with the constitution and reduce overcrowding in prisons.

But critics saw a brazenly transparent attempt by the PSD to let off many of its own officials and lawmakers ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive of recent years.

This push saw almost 2,000 people convicted for abuse of power between 2014 and 2016, and a serving prime minister, five ministers, 16 lawmakers and five senators go on trial.

Grindeanu's climbdown on Saturday evening - he said he wanted to avoid "dividing the nation" - sparked cheers and celebrations that went late into the night.

But he said the government still needed to bring laws into line with the constitution, slamming what he called a campaign of misinformation and "distortion".

Raluca, a demonstrator in her 30s, said she was delighted but that the government was still not to be trusted.

"People are going to remain very vigilant with this government," she told AFP late Saturday.

Her words were echoed on Sunday morning by Rado, one of a sweaty trio peddling away on bikes fixed to the ground at Victory Square.

"Usually we do a Sunday trip, we cycle around 100-150 kilometres (60-90 miles)," said the 27-year-old who works for an online sports shop.

"And since we have to look out for the thieves in our government, we decided just to come here and train," he told AFP.

"We just want someone competent to run the state for the people. Not for themselves, for their own benefit and bank accounts." AFP

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