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Romania's upper house of parliament backs withdrawal of graft decree

Protesters display the Romanian national flag colours during a demonstration in front of the government building in Bucharest, Romania, February 12, 2017. Inquam Photos/Liviu Florin Albei via REUTERS

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a government order to scrap a graft decree that triggered mass street protests, international criticism and finally an embarrassing U-turn by the month-old cabinet.

The Senate backed the order by 118 votes to none against. The lower house of parliament, which has the final say, is also expected shortly to approve the withdrawal of the decree.

The ruling Social Democrat-led coalition holds a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament following its victory in a Dec. 11 election. The coalition leaders have already agreed to withdraw the decree as swiftly as possible.

The decree would have shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution and would have undermined a drive to stamp out high-level graft. It triggered the largest protests seen in Romania, an EU member state, since the 1989 fall of communism.

On Monday, parliament also unanimously endorsed a presidential plan to hold a national referendum over anti-corruption reforms.

President Klaus Iohannis, a former leader of the centre-right opposition, strongly criticised the government over the decree but has not yet set a date for the referendum.

The wording on the ballot paper will be up to the president, who said last month he wanted to hold the vote to see “the sovereign desire of Romanians” over the anti-graft drive.

Reporting by Radu Marinas