Thousands of Romanians protest against proposed judicial reforms

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Thousands of Romanians rallied in the capital Bucharest and other cities on Sunday, protesting against plans by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) to overhaul the country’s judicial system which is seen as undermining efforts to combat corruption.

The PSD-led coalition, which holds a strong majority in parliament, is debating proposed new legislation which the European Commission and thousands of magistrates have said would put the judicial system under political control.

Sunday’s protests mark three weeks since a special parliamentary commission began debates on the bill, which the ruling party aims to approve by the end of this year.

The commission is headed by PSD veteran, former justice minister Florin Iordache who had to quit in February after a decree on corruption that he drafted, triggered the biggest rallies since the 1989 anti-communist Romanian revolution.

“Thieves and mobsters’ nest,”, “United we save Romania,” shouted thousands of protesters braving gusting winds, in front of the government’s headquarters.

About 10,000 are estimated to have rallied in Bucharest and overall, 20,000 across the country overall.

Bucharest’s Victory Square witnessed large street protests at the start of the year following attempts by the ruling Social Democrats to decriminalize some graft offences and has been a gathering place for largely peaceful protests ever since.

Contested elements of the bill include changes to a judicial inspection unit which oversees the conduct of magistrates, the way in which chief prosecutors are appointed and giving the president the right to vet prosecutor candidates.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring.

In a Nov. 15 report the European Commission said reform of the justice system has halted this year and challenges to judicial independence remain a persistent source of concern.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Greg Mahlich