Protests in Bucharest end with violent police intervention

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
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Tens of thousands gathered Saturday in the Romanian capital Bucharest for a second straight day after more than 450 people were hurt and around 30 arrested in a huge anti-corruption protest.

The demonstrations were peaceful but on Friday, riot police fired tear gas and used water canon on a huge rally in central Bucharest. Hundreds of people including many Romanians who work in Western Europe and police officers needed medical attention.

About 40,000 people gathered in front of government offices in the capital on Saturday evening - fewer than the 100,000 the previous night, shouting "Resignation!, Resignation!", blowing vuvuzelas and waving Romanian and European Union flags.

Romania, a country of 20 million which hosts a U.S. ballistic missile defense station, remains among the poorest and most corrupt members of the EU. Around four million people have left the country in the last 15 years, seeking a better life than that offered by Romania's average monthly wage of just 520 euros ($590).

Peaceful rallies have repeatedly been held since the Social Democrats took power in early 2017 and tried to decriminalize several graft offences.

Earlier this year, ruling party legislators pushed changes to the criminal code through parliament, drawing expressions of concern from the European Commission and the U.S. State Department. The changes are being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

Social Democrat chief and lower house speaker Liviu Dragnea was sentenced to three and a half years in prison by the Supreme Court in June for incitement to abuse of office, a ruling which is not final pending an appeal.

In an open letter, Dragnea, who is seen as de facto head of the government, said his party and government would not bow to public pressure to resign.

"I want to assure all Romanians that parliament will not allow anybody to dissolve democracy, suspend individual rights and freedoms, change the outcome of the elections and overthrow order in the Romanian state through violence," he wrote.

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