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Romanian president calls for referendum over justice reforms

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Bucharest (AFP)

Centre-right Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called Thursday for a referendum to be held on the left-wing government's controversial proposed justice reforms, which he himself opposes.

In a televised statement, Iohannis said the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) was "continuing the assault against the justice system which started when they took over power".

He called for the referendum to be held on May 26, the same day Romania is due to hold EU parliament elections.

Regarded as one of the EU's most graft-ridden members, Romania has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over a series of judicial reforms proposed by the PSD which the EU Commission believes will hamper the much-needed fight against corruption.

In January Iohannis hit out at the government over an emergency decree unveiled by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader allowing people found guilty of corruption after 2014 to fight their convictions.

At the time Iohannis condemned the decree as an attempt to protect the PSD's party chief Liviu Dragnea, who was barred from becoming prime minister due to his criminal convictions.

In his statement on Thursday, Iohannis accused the government of using such decrees "abusively and far too often".

"Justice is a matter of national interest and the people have the right to decide whether or not they want corruption to become state policy," he said.

Iohannis has been holding discussions this week with civil society groups and magistrates about exactly what question should be on the ballot paper, but he did not elaborate on this question on Thursday.

The PSD is opposed to a referendum and local media reports have suggested the government may try to introduce legislation in the coming days which would force the vote to be held in separate polling stations from the EU elections.

It is thought this would make it harder to reach the 30 percent turnout needed to validate the referendum.

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