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Romania protests endure as president says country in crisis

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president told lawmakers Tuesday that the country is in a "fully-fledged" political crisis, after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against a government measure that would weaken the country's anti-corruption drive.

In an address to Parliament, President Klaus Iohannis, a critic of the two-month-old government, said the majority of Romanians now believed the country was going in the wrong direction. "Romania needs a government that is transparent, which governs predictably by the light of day, not sneakily at night," the president said, referring to the late hour the government passed an emergency ordinance last week aimed at decriminalizing some forms of official corruption.

The move — which bypassed Parliament and was not signed off by Iohannis, who has limited powers — ignited the biggest protests seen since communism ended in the country in 1989. As a result, the government will now seek to introduce the plan in Parliament.

Thousands gathered for the eighth consecutive evening in Victory Square outside the government offices, shouting "Social Democratic Party, the red plague!" and "Resign!" In smaller numbers, about 2,000 protesters gathered outside the presidential palace yelling "Get out, you traitor!"

Iohannis, who was elected in 2014 by direct vote, was chairman of the opposition Liberal Party. He quit the party that year to stand as president. He has been critical of the government headed by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, which came into being after the December parliamentary elections.

The government "has been saying publicly I can't stomach the result of the vote ... that I'd overturn a legitimate government," Iohannis said. "That's false. You won, now govern and legislate, but not at any price."

Some lawmakers booed and shouted "shame on you!" at Iohannis and walked out. Other lawmakers cheered. Despite the crisis, Iohannis said Romania didn't need early elections, a view the government shares.

Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the governing Social Democratic Party, and Senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu refused to greet the president when he arrived at Parliament. In his speech, Iohannis pressed ahead with an earlier initiative to hold a referendum on another government initiative to pardon prisoners. Critics say the proposal will help government allies convicted of corruption.

Dragnea, the main power broker behind the government, expressed disappointment Iohannis did not deliver a "speech of unity," and said "he should leave the government alone, to govern."