A woman flashes a symbolic red card during a protest against the government's plan to pardon thousands of prisoners through an emergency ordinance, in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Several thousand people marched through the Romanian capital on Wednesday night to protest the government's plan to pardon thousands of prisoners, a surprise move to allegedly reduce overcrowding in prisons that would also benefit some notable government supporters. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Several thousand people marched through the Romanian capital on Wednesday night to protest the government's plan to pardon thousands of prisoners — a surprise move to allegedly reduce overcrowding in prisons that would also benefit some notable government supporters.
Premier Sorin Grindeanu wants to implement the measure through an emergency ordinance, which would not require the approval of parliament or the president.
The move has provoked sharp criticism, with Raluca Turcan, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, accusing the government of trying to sneak the measure in.
"This is an abuse of trust, an act that favors the criminal, an act against the general public," she said.
Braving frigid temperatures, the protesters massed outside the government's main offices. "Resignation!" they yelled, calling the ruling Social Democratic Party "the red plague."
Smaller protests against the plan were also held in the cities of Cluj, Sibiu, Iasi and Craiova.
The justice ministry published a draft of the plan Wednesday, surprising Romania's top prosecutor and opposition politicians. The proposal could affect 2,500 prisoners — primarily those with sentences under five years, except for those convicted of crimes of a sexual nature, violence or corruption. Prisoners over 60, pregnant women and inmates with young children would see their sentences halved regardless of their convictions.
Among those who could benefit from the measure is the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who got a two-year suspended sentence in 2016 for vote rigging. He is currently banned from being prime minister due to his conviction, something he says is unfair.
Media mogul and government supporter Dan Voiculescu is another possible beneficiary. The 70-year-old is serving a 10-year sentence for money laundering.
General Prosecutor Augustin Lazar also criticized the proposal, saying it lacked transparency and had not been discussed publicly.