Romania's embattled PM survives no-confidence vote

Bucharest (AFP) - Romania's defiant Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu easily survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday even as his government continued to face nationwide protests over its efforts to weaken anti-corruption laws.

The motion, submitted by the centre-right opposition, failed to garner the required 233 votes in parliament where Grindeanu's left-wing Social Democrat party (PSD) holds a solid majority after winning elections only two months ago.

After the vote the prime minister vowed not to quit but indirectly acknowledged the public anger that fuelled the protests.

"From my point of view, the government will from now on act in full transparency and on the basis of dialogue," the 43-year-old told lawmakers in Bucharest.

For more than a week, hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated against an emergency decree approved on January 31, which critics say would have protected corrupt politicians from prosecution.

Although the measure was scrapped late Sunday, the marches have continued, with some protesters vowing to forge on until the government steps down.

The street rallies -- the largest since the fall of communism in 1989 -- have also served as fodder for political bickering between the PSD and the opposition-backed President Klaus Iohannis who has championed the protest movement.

- 'You've won, now govern' -

"Romanians don't want corrupt politicians to be pardoned and shielded from justice. We call on you to stop acting against the law," read the motion filed by 123 opposition MPs, dozens of whom wore armbands reading "Quit".

Observers say much of the public anger is directed at the graft-riddled political establishment, which includes powerful PSD head Liviu Dragnea.

The 54-year-old was barred from running for office because of a voter fraud conviction and is currently on trial for alleged abuse of power, a charge he denies.

"The government has understood the demonstrators' message. Other measures will be taken to end this conflict," Dragnea said on Wednesday.

While the crowds have noticeably shrunk from the half a million people thronging cities and towns on Sunday, they are expected to grow again over the weekend.

In a parliamentary address Tuesday, Iohannis had hinted that the government should quit.

"The repeal of the decree and the possible sacking of a minister is too little. Early elections are too much," Iohannis said.

"If the PSD, which has created this crisis, fails to resolve the crisis immediately, I will summon all the political parties for talks. You've won, now govern and legislate -- but not at any price," he warned.

Grindeanu lashed out at the president on Wednesday, accusing him of displaying a "strong desire to quickly install his own government".

- 'Difficult marathon' -

Despite the climbdown on the corruption law, the government still aims to free some 2,500 people serving prison sentences of less than five years, via a separate decree to be reviewed by parliament.

Grindeanu has argued the measures were meant to bring penal law into line with the constitution in the European Union member and reduce overcrowding in prisons.

But critics see the moves as a brazen attempt to let off the many lawmakers who have been ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive in recent years.

That push has seen almost 2,000 people convicted for abuse of power and a serving prime minister and a string of ministers and lawmakers go on trial.

The government's latest manoeuvres have sparked alarm in Brussels and Washington.

The European Commission, which had previously praised Romania for its efforts, warned Wednesday that a U-turn in "this incredibly difficult marathon" against corruption would be a "disservice" to the country.