Europe

Romania's political crisis deepens over diluted graft law

  • Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

  • Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

  • Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    Demonstrators carry puppets depicting, left to right, Justice Minister Floring Lordache, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, head of the senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Romania's political crisis is deepening over a government decree that may benefit rich and powerful people convicted of corruption. Central banner reads: "we came to steal because it is legal". (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)  (The Associated Press)

Romania's political crisis deepened Friday after two key government allies said an emergency decree that would dilute the government's anti-corruption fight was not constitutional.

Ombudsman Victor Ciorbea, who previously backed the government's ordinance, reversed his position Friday. He said he would tell the Constitutional Court that the decree passed overnight Wednesday to decriminalize official misconduct was "not justified," and the measure risked "taking out of the reach of criminal law almost all the public administration."

A parliamentary party which formally supports the government, the Union of Democratic Hungarians, also criticized the government Friday. It said legislation connected to the criminal law should not be modified through emergency decrees but through parliamentary debate.

In another setback for the government, the influential Romanian Orthodox Church said Friday that the anti-corruption fight should continue and those found guilty should be sanctioned. "Robbery and theft degrade society morally and materially," the church said.

Earlier, Justice Minister Florin Iordache said he stood by the law, defying strong criticism from home and abroad and days of massive protests.

Iordache, who had temporarily handed over his duties to a subordinate, told reporters Friday: "I take responsibility for this ordinance." The ruling center-left Social Democratic Party has defended the decree, which has sparked some of the biggest protests since the 1989 fall of communism

Romania's Constitutional Court will rule on the legality of the law on Tuesday, the last legal resort to stop it.

Speaking at a European Union summit in Malta on Friday, President Klaus Iohannis called the situation "very complicated."

"We have hundreds of thousands of my Romanians out on the streets, and I trust them. I trust my people," Iohannis said.

"I believe in Romania... European values have to prevail and this is what I believe will happen. "

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about recent measures "that undermine rule of law and weaken accountability for financial and corruption-related crimes."

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Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.