(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)
BUCHAREST, Romania — Antigovernment protests in the Romanian capital turned violent Friday night as the police clashed with protesters, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds. More than 240 people, including some security personnel, were reported injured.
An estimated 100,000 people gathered throughout the day in Bucharest’s Piata Victoriei to express their anger at the government, with tens of thousands protesting in other cities across the country. Chief among their grievances are legislative changes that many say will weaken the rule of law.
“We want democracy and laws that defend citizens, not politicians,” said Moise Maracine, 33, who flew from Britain, where he lives and owns a business.
Organizers sought to draw Romanians living outside the country to this demonstration, the latest in a series.
Stelian Onchioiu, 43, who works in Dublin as a driver, said that he came back “because I want to change the system in Romania.” After a decade in the military, Mr. Onchioiu said, he has spent the past two years living in Ireland. “It’s important for us to come back,” he said. “There is too much corruption.”
While the protests started peacefully, demonstrators’ efforts to push back the police barricades were met with strong resistance. Some among the crowd threw bottles and rocks at the police, and tensions grew as the night wore on.
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The protests came about 18 months after protesters staged the largest demonstration in Romania since the revolution that overthrew communism in 1989.
In February 2017, a half-million people took to the streets to oppose an emergency decree that effectively decriminalized low-level corruption. Since then, the Social Democrat-led government has continued to push through legislation that critics believe will undo anticorruption steps taken after Romania joined the European Union in 2007.
Last month, the chief prosecutor of the country’s anticorruption agency, Laura Codruta Kovesi, was fired after falling afoul of the government.
Antigovernment demonstrations have become a regular occurrence in Romania, but in recent months numbers have dropped significantly as fatigue has set it. Friday’s protests were the largest in months.
Previous demonstrations had passed with few incidents of violence. The use of tear gas by security forces stationed outside the main government building angered many in the crowd, and as the night wore on they refused to disperse.
Shortly after 11 p.m., security forces began to forcibly clear the square of protesters.
Klaus Iohannis, who holds the largely ceremonial post of president and has been an opposition leader in the past, denounced the violence in a statement on Facebook.
“I strongly condemn the brutal intervention of the gendarmerie, strongly disproportionate to the manifestations of most people in Piata Victoriei,” he wrote. “Trying to break people’s will through a violent reaction of law enforcement is a reprehensible solution.”