Romania's lower house passes controversial judicial reforms

Bucharest (AFP) –


Romania's lower house of parliament on Wednesday passed two controversial reforms which the opposition says risk limiting judicial independence and weakening the fight against corruption.

For several weeks, thousands of Romanians have staged mass street protests every Sunday to demand the withdrawal of the proposed legislation, which would overhaul the justice system and reduce the powers of the country's anti-corruption directorate.

Critics including Brussels and Washington say the changes would dent progress in tackling graft, which the European Union has long complained about in the 10 years since Romania joined the bloc.

The two measures that were passed by a vote of 177 to 79 in the lower chamber dominated by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), must still be approved by the Senate.

"Your goal is to subordinate justice," opposition deputy Lucian Stanciu Viziteu said of the PSD, calling it "the start of a state party dictatorship".

The left-wing Social Democrats returned to power after a thumping election victory last December but the party has had a rocky ride.

It backtracked on altering anti-corruption laws back in February after they provoked the biggest protests since communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed in 1989.