Tens of thousands of supporters of Romania’s left-wing government took to the streets of Bucharest on Saturday in an unprecedented protest against the “abuses” of the country’s own judiciary, several members of which are embroiled in corruption cases.
Bussed in from around the country by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) the protesters — put at 150,000 by the national news agency Agerpres — assembled in Victory Square in front of the government building.
Ruling party leader Liviu Dragnea, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila and other government members also turned up at the protest.
“Each one of you can be reached by the long arm of the parallel state,” Dragnea told the crowd, taking aim at “corrupt prosecutors, the head of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi and magistrates linked to the secret services”.
“Tyranny won’t win in a fight against the people. Sooner or later the day of freedom will arrive,” he added.
According to Romanian media, numerous local officials, as well as hospital managers and headteachers, had been urging their employees to join the demonstration.
As well as laying on special trains and buses, the PSD also handed out instructions to make sure the demonstrations are as effective as possible.
According to a leaked party document, one Romanian flag for every 10 participants and a placard for every 40 would be made available.
Even residents across Bucharest — not traditionally a PSD stronghold — have been receiving flyers for the event in the post.
“Come out and say: ‘Stop!’ to the deep state that wants to control Romania with made-up cases, made-up evidence and fake witnesses,” read one flyer.
Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis, who has frequently clashed with the government, had called Saturday’s demonstration “strange and a bit farcical”, adding that it was reminiscent of the communist era.
In 2016 Dragnea was handed a two-year suspended sentence for electoral fraud and faces another verdict in a second case.
The controversial figure, who was unable to become prime minister because of his criminal record, has ceaselessly targeted the magistrates since his party returned to power in 2016.
Romania is one of the most corrupt countries in the EU and the bloc has placed tight oversight mechanisms on its judicial system.