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Bucharest protests as seen by the foreign press

Media institutions such as the BBC, Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, The New York Times, CNN, Euronews, but also media institutions from Russia, China, Spain, Italy and Serbia have sent their correspondents to Bucharest ever since January 31st, the first day of protests, when thousands of people took to the streets and protested against the controversial Government decree amending the Criminal Codes.

Television stations from United Kingdom, U.S., China and local press correspondents provided daily live coverage of the events taking place in Bucharest and across Romania, events that culminated with the repeal of the decree and the resignation of the Justice Minister.

Foreign journalists continued to cover the events even after the Government repealed its decree and hundreds of thousands of Romanians continued to protest in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square and in several other cities.

Foreign publications broadcast the protests live, from the middle of the squares, and the images showing the protesters turning on their mobile phone lights, flashlights and lighters were the most promoted by the international press.

On BBC’s Facebook page, the “light protest” images registered over 2.8 million views.

BBC’s Nick Thorpe covered the atmosphere generated by the Romanian Government’s decisions and talked with Senate Speaker Calin Popescu-Tariceanu.

“He admitted that the Government’s actions and the way they were communicated were clumsy but insisted that they were well-intentioned,” Nick Thorpe reported.

“A former prime minister, Tariceanu rejected the perception, widely held in Romania and abroad, that the conflict is a battle between corrupt officials and a society that that wants to fight against corruption,” the journalist added.

“I regret having to say this, but the judiciary in Romania is not independent, and this is the clear issue which has to be addressed in the future, Tariceanu stated and talked about how prosecutors, particularly National Anticorruption Directorate prosecutors, are teaming up with the secret services.

The journalist also pointed out that Tariceanu’s arguments are diametrically opposed to those of DNA Director Laura Codruta Kovesi, who stated in an interview that the judiciary is independent and the DNA prosecuted Government and Opposition politicians alike. Kovesi emphasised that the DNA would have been rendered powerless had the decree come into force.

Also for the BBC, Steve Rosenberg reported from the crowd gathered in Victoriei Square that the Government would not have cancelled the decree without pressure from the street. “People power was decisive in this case,” he commented, mentioning the anti-corruption efforts made in Romania in recent years.

Associated Press correspondent Alison Mutler stated that Romanians are not giving up on street protests despite the cold and the fact that the Government repealed the much-hated decree. AP also talked about the protest at Cotroceni and pointed out that the people protesting there want President Klaus Iohannis to resign, considering him mainly to blame for the political crisis.

Deutsche Welle filmed the protest in Victoriei Square and noted the fact that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets against the decree that weakens the fight against corruption. “It’s the biggest protest since the collapse of communism. The Government has repealed the ordinance but protests continue,” Deutsche Welle informs.

The New York Times’s Rick Lyman and Kit Gillet came to Victoriei Square to talk to the people and reported on their dissatisfaction with the fact that all these events only resulted in the resignation of Justice Minister Florin Iordache. Likewise, The New York Times on Friday also published a Romanian-language article – “In Romania, Corruption’s Tentacles Grip Daily Life” – which presents Romanians’ testimonies on corruption.

“The ordinance has been repealed, the amendments are already history, but protesters continue to distrust Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu,” Al Jazeera’s David Chater informed.

The journalist considers that the protests represented a battle for survival for PSD, the ruling left-wing party, and talks about the fact that the lives of Romanians have always been affected by corruption.

China’s CCTV journalists quote Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, who claimed that there will be a debate in Romania on the hot topics of these days and the EU’s support for clarifications will be asked.

CNN’s correspondents from Romania – Elizabeth Roberts and Cristiana Moisescu – stated that Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu still plans to modify the Criminal Codes, but through a law debated in Parliament. CNN also presented the atmosphere in the Romanian Parliament when President Klaus Iohannis gave a speech on this topic.

Euronews talked to several young people who promised to go to Victoriei Square every day and who want the Government to resign. Euronews also mentioned the accusations levied by Government supporters, who claim people were paid to protest.

Actor and singer Tudor Chirila stated for Euronews: “Politicians are trying to avoid convictions. In my opinion, this is what we’re talking about, because they don’t want to talk to people. They don’t want a dialogue,” he said.

The Guardian asked Romanians why they are protesting. “If you are protesting in Romania, we would like you to tell us why,” read an announcement posted in a February 3rd article signed by Carmen Fishwick.

On February 4th, journalist David Connett wrote in The Guardian that Premier Sorin Grindeanu retracted the controversial decree, following protests. “The prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, said that the law would be repealed in a cabinet meeting on Sunday after an estimated 140,000 demonstrators protested against the law close to his office,” Connett wrote.

France’s Le Monde headlined: “Liviu Dragnea, le visage de la corruption roumaine” (Liviu Dragnea, the image of Romanian corruption). The article is signed by Jean-Baptiste Chastand and Mirel Bran (the daily’s correspondent in Bucharest).

In the article, the journalists characterise the PSD President: “On the model of Hungarian and Polish ultra-conservative leaders, this left-wing politician, affiliated to the European Socialists, took advantage and accused his opponents of being manipulated by Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros, whose foundation is financing civil society organisations in Eastern Europe. And he does not hesitate to play the nationalism card, complaining of the influence of Brussels or of foreign companies, which is rare in a pro-European country,” the French daily notes.

“The emergency decrees meant to pardon many convicted officials and to decriminalise low-level abuse of office, which the Government was forced to repeal in the face of mass protests, were a betrayal of the Romanian people by its leaders,” The Financial Times comments.

Other journalists also interviewed the representatives of the institutions that fight against corruption: DNA Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi and Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar.

Andrew Byrne and Neil Buckley, The Financial Times journalists, wrote about the “republic of prosecutors” and about the label “corruption kills,” in the article “The week revolution returned to Romania.”

Kovesi gave an interview to Netherlands’s NRC Handelsblad publication, talking about the fact that the Government decree would have set a dangerous precedent and would have affected the DNA’s activity. For La Repubblica, she expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that repealing the legislative act does not solve the Government’s initial intentions and contains “terms declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.”

Spain’s El Pais journalists interviewed Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, who stated: “This decree was conceived to have certain concrete, selected beneficiaries. They thought it is a good idea to save someone who has an ongoing court care right now. And that is called conflict of interest.”

Germany’s ARD, Serbia’s N1, New China, Reuters, AFP, CNN Balkans, television stations from Russia and Bulgaria, and independent journalists also covered the protests. Telesur, a television station broadcasting for South America, also covered the anti-government protests in Romania, news.ro informs.

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