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Romanian government mobilises against judicial 'abuses'

Daniel Mihailescu, AFP | Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) rulling party leaves the headquarters of the National Anticorruption Department (DNA) after he attended a hearing in Bucharest April 27, 2018.

Nearly 200,000 supporters of the Romanian government assembled in the capital dressed in white to protest alleged abuses committed by anti-corruption prosecutors, according to estimates by local news stations.

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From bussing supporters to Bucharest to mass mailings of party slogans, Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) pulled out all the stops for the demonstration.

The party's politicians and others think the prosecutors have too much power and allege they have tapped phones illegally and unjustly targeted officials.

But critics say the demonstration is part of a campaign by the ruling party to weaken the judiciary and prevent it from acting against pervasive corruption in official institutions.

Romania is one of the European Union's most corrupt nations. The anti-corruption agency last year successfully prosecuted 713 officials, including 28 mayors and a senator.

The PSD hoped to match the record number of people that took to the streets last year to denounce planned reforms to the judiciary that opponents -- including Brussels -- said would have hurt judicial independence.

Local television stations have estimated just under 200,000 people were gathered, although riot police did not offer official figures.

Among the demonstrators was PSD chief Liviu Dragnea, who dove into the crowd to strains from Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which is also the EU anthem.

He has led the party's charge on the judiciary since it returned to power in 2016, accusing it of creating a "parallel state" and painting himself as its victim.

"Nobody is safe. Absolutely everyone can be targeted by a tip-off which could lead to a conviction,"

But critics say his stance has more to do with the suspended two-year prison sentence he received for vote-rigging which prevented him from becoming prime minister.

A ruling in a separate fraud case involving Dragnea had been expected on Friday but has been delayed until June 21.

'Strange and farcical'

According to Romanian media, numerous local officials, as well as hospital managers and headteachers, urged their employees to join the demonstration.

As well as chartering special trains and buses, the PSD also handed out instructions to make sure the demonstrations were as effective as possible.

According to a leaked party document, the party planned to ensure one Romanian flag for every 10 participants and a placard for every 40.

Even residents across Bucharest -- not traditionally a PSD stronghold -- received 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, called Saturday's demonstration "strange and a bit farcical", adding that it was reminiscent of the communist era.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, and REUTERS)

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