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Romanian government survives no confidence vote

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By Reuters
Romanian government survives no confidence vote
FILE PHOTO - Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila attends a debate on the rule of law in Romania at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler   -   Copyright  VINCENT KESSLER(Reuters)

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s Social Democrat-led government survived a no confidence vote on Thursday as expected, days before taking over the European Union’s rotating presidency, but still faces concerns at home and abroad over its attempts to weaken a crackdown on corruption.

Moves to overhaul judicial legislation and oust chief prosecutors and judges have dominated the public agenda since the Social Democrats came to power in early 2017, and threats to judicial independence could intensify a creep away from democratic values in some of the EU’s eastern member states.

Changes to criminal codes and other judicial bills raised criticism from the European Commission, the U.S. State Department, thousands of magistrates, and triggered the country’s biggest street protests in decades.

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who has a suspended jail sentence in a vote-rigging case and has appealed a separate conviction for abuse of office, has been pushing Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s government for further changes, including an emergency decree that would grant prison pardons and amnesty.

The centrist opposition, which pushed for the no confidence vote, said the ruling party and its junior coalition partner ALDE were a threat to the rule of law and economic stability in one of the EU’s most corrupt states.

“Every hour spent with Dragnea and Dancila in power is a threat for Romania,” Dan Barna, the leader of the opposition Save Romania Union said. “The motion is not about the political fight, but about the future of our children.”

But only 161 lawmakers from the fragmented opposition supported the motion, well short of the 233 votes – 50 percent of deputies plus one – required under the constitution for no confidence motions to succeed.

“I will not resign because I have the certainty that Romania is on the right path, that Romanians are appreciating the measures we are taking,” Prime Minister Dancila told lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the government announced plans to enforce a tax on bank assets from January, cap gas prices, introduce turnover taxes for energy and telecoms firms as well as enable Romanians to withdraw from a mandatory private pension scheme.

The planned emergency decree, which was presented without impact assessments and without notifying unions and business associations, caused losses across Central European markets and the Bucharest blue chip index had its second-worst day on record on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Angus MacSwan)