Romania's corruption decree ditched for good

Bucharest (AFP) - Romanian MPs voted Tuesday to definitively shelve a controversial decree that had sought to water down anti-corruption legislation but ended up unleashing the nation's biggest protests in a quarter-century.

The left-leaning government had already revoked the decree earlier this month but it still needed to be repealed through a parliamentary vote.

"This decree's saga has finally come to an end. The government's unfair and nontransparent move has been corrected," said the head of the centre-right opposition, Raluca Turcan.

On January 31, less than a month after being sworn in, the Social Democrat (PSD) government adopted an emergency decree that critics say would have protected corrupt politicians from prosecution.

The proposed changes, which also sparked concern in Brussels and Washington, would have made abuse of power a crime punishable by jail only if the sums involved exceeded 200,000 lei (44,000 euros, $47,500).

Critics say that this would have let off PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who is currently on trial for alleged abuse of power.

Dragnea, who denies the charges, insisted he would not have benefited from the decree.

The law has triggered weeks of rallies, peaking on February 5 with an estimated half a million people nationwide.

Despite the decree's withdrawal, thousands of protesters have vowed to continue demonstrations until the government quits.

Even since before Romania joined the European Union in 2007, Brussels has taken it to task over the endemic problem of corruption and organised crime.

The country has intensified its fight against corruption in recent years with the creation of a powerful anti-corruption agency, which has seen the arrest of hundreds of senior officials and politicians.

Graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Romania below all but three of its fellow EU states in a January report based on public perception of the prevalence of corruption. Worldwide, the country ranked 57th.