Massive protest rocks Bucharest
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Bucharest after more than 450 people were hurt and about 30 arrested in an anti-corruption protest against the Romanian government.
Police used water cannon and tear gas on Friday to disperse protesters, calling on the left-of-centre government to resign.
The protesters were objecting to the perceived efforts to weaken the judiciary by the governing Social Democrats (PSD).
Many demonstrators needed treatment after inhaling pepper spray and tear gas, while others were wounded by blows, medics said.
About 30 police were also injured with 11 taken to hospital.
The violence began when some in the crowd tried to break into government buildings but were held back by the security cordon.
Other protesters were seen throwing paving slabs at officers.
The huge crowd chanted slogans like “Down with the government” and “Justice, not corruption”.
Last month, Romania’s centre-right President Klaus Iohannis, a critic of the administration, approved the dismissal of anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, who had been leading corruption investigations into regional and national politicians.
Iohannis had been under heavy pressure from the PSD government to agree to her removal.
Around 150,000 rallied in Bucharest last year after the administration passed a decree that could free those jailed on corruption charges.
“I came after seeing what happened on Friday on television. The brutality of the police against peaceful people,” said 64-year-old Floarea Toader.
“My children work in Spain and they would like to come back. But for now, that’s not possible as the politicians are only interested in themselves and do nothing for anyone else.”
Around 4 million Romanians have left one of the European Union’s poorest countries in the last 15 years. Its average monthly wage is about €520.
The police rejected criticism from the centre-right opposition that officers had used excessive force on Friday, saying its response to violent protesters had been “gradual and proportionate”.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticised the violence, in which a cameraman for Austria’s public broadcaster was hurt. Vienna holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“We strongly condemn the violent clashes in Bucharest where numerous demonstrators and journalists were injured. We expect full explanations,” he tweeted.
Iohannis said he “strongly condemned the brutal intervention of the police, which was disproportionate to the attitude of most demonstrators … any form of violence is unacceptable”.
Saturday’s protests in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Picture credit: YouTube