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article image2,000 protest in Romania over minister's immunity

By AFP     Sep 22, 2016 in World

Around 2,000 people protested in Romanian capital Bucharest late Thursday over the Senate's refusal to lift the immunity from prosecution of a former interior minister for "involuntary homicide".

The protesters briefly blocked traffic in front of the upper house of parliament, waving placards bearing slogans such as "Corruption kills" and "Shame on You".

Romania's powerful anti-corruption agency opened an enquiry last October into the death of a police motorcyclist who was escorting the former interior minister, Gabriel Oprea.

Prosecutors allege that Oprea had abused the police outrider service and illegally purchased a luxury car from the account of his ministry's in-house secret service, the DIPI.

At the time of the police motorcyclist's death the ministerial cortege was said to be travelling at an excessive speed.

"Those elected cannot act however they please, they have to respect the mandate the voters give them. They can't just defend each other," one young protester said.

Hundreds more angry protesters took to the streets in other Romanian towns on Thursday, according to local media.

Oprea, who served in the social-democrat government until November 2015, has maintained his innocence and had called on the Senate -- which is dominated by social-democrats -- to reject the anti-corruption agency's call for his immunity to be lifted.

The Senate vote on Monday was criticised by President Klaus Iohannis and by US ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm, who stressed that no person should be above the law.

Romania, which entered the European Union in 2007, has come under strict surveillance from Brussels in the areas of corruption and judicial reform.

In its annual reports, the European Commission has criticised the Romanian parliament over its refusal to lift the immunity of many figures targeted by the anti-corruption agency.

Earlier this month Petre Toba, who succeeded Oprea as interior minister, resigned after becoming embroiled in an embezzlement scandal in which the in-house secret service is alleged to have improperly purchased dollhouses, playing cards and an oven.

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