Romanians march in support of anti-corruption chief

Romanian protesters hold a banner reading "We fight for justice, they fight for corruption" during a demonstration in Bucharest on Sunday (AFP Photo/Daniel MIHAILESCU)

Bucharest (AFP) - Thousands of Romanians braved freezing temperatures on Sunday to show their support for the popular head of the country's anti-corruption investigation body, who the left-wing government is trying to oust.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader from the Social Democratic Party (PSD) launched a procedure on Thursday to sack Laura Codruta Kovesi, the chief prosecutor of the DNA anti-corruption body, accusing her of being "authoritarian".

About 3,000 protesters gathered near the government building in capital Bucharest, according to news agency Agerpres, chanting "Codruta, don't forget, we are with you", and "Justice not corruption".

"The DNA must continue to do its job, however the justice minister must go," said one protester, Serban Alexe, a computer specialist.

Hundreds also took to streets in the western cities of Timisoara and Cluj, as well as Brasov and Sibiu in central Romania.

As DNA chief prosecutor, Kovesi has helped bring a raft of corrupt officials to justice in recent years in one of the EU's most graft-ridden countries.

This has won the 44-year-old plaudits abroad but also enemies in high places in Romania, with many of those convicted members of or close to the ruling party.

More than 2,000 supporters had previously marched in Bucharest and other Romanian cities on Thursday after Toader's announcement, in which he also accused Kovesi of having "damaged the image" of Romania abroad.

Under the law, it is up to the justice minister to ask for the dismissal of heads of the prosecution, but the final decision on whether to sack Kovesi lies with President Klaus Ionnahis, who is from the centre-right and reiterated on Thursday he was "happy" with the DNA.

More than 87,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Ionnahis not to dismiss Kovesi.