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‘We Know What You Did Last Summer’: Romanians Mark Anniversary Of Protest Crackdown

Romanians have rallied in Bucharest and other cities across the country to mark the first anniversary of a massive anti-corruption protest that was violently put down by the government.

The demonstrations come amid public outrage over the authorities' response to the kidnapping and killing of a 15-year-old girl, a case that revealed deep flaws in the police system of the European Union and NATO member state.

Some 20,000 people turned up for a rally outside government headquarters in central Bucharest, filling much of Victoria Square well into the evening, according to G4media.ro.

Protests had also been urged via social media for Brasov, Cluj, Constanta, Iasi, and other large cities, under slogans such as "We don't forget what you did last summer," "We're watching you," and "Reset Romania."

Some 100,000 Romanians, many of them expatriates, gathered last year on August 10 in front of the same government building to protest the leftist government's moves to reverse anti-graft reforms in one of the EU's most corrupt countries.

Riot police last year used water cannons and tear gas in a display of violence unseen since the early 1990s.

Television footage of protesters and bystanders with hands up being chased and beaten with batons sparked fury across the country and prompted condemnation from the EU and the United States.

Some 450 people needed medical assistance and one person apparently died after the crackdown.

In what observers say was a sign of revolt after the August 10, 2018 violence and a rejection of its assault on the judiciary, the Social Democratic Party (PSD)-led coalition suffered a drubbing in elections for the European Parliament on May 26.

A day later, PSD leader and lower-house speaker Liviu Dragnea was imprisoned following the rejection of his appeal against a conviction in an abuse-of-office case.

However, public anger over what many see as an increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional public administration reached a new peak after the gruesome slaying of a 15-year-old girl from Caracal, in southern Romania, whose calls for help were mishandled by police.

Alexandra Macesanu phoned the European emergency number 112 three times to say she had been kidnapped, beaten, and raped. It took the authorities 19 hours to locate and enter the premises where she had been taken to as they initially made light of her calls and then struggled to trace them.

Authorities later found burned bone fragments on site, which they identified as being Macesanu's after DNA tests. A 65-year-old car mechanic has confessed to murdering Alexandra and another girl, 18-year old Luiza Melencu, in April.

The authorities' handling of the case has triggered street protests across the country and stark condemnation from opposition-backed center-right President Klaus Iohannis.

Iohannis, who is up for reelection in November, said the PSD-led coalition was "the moral author of the tragedy" because of its measures against the judiciary.

The interior minister resigned, while the chief of Romanian police, the education minister, and several other officials were fired.

However, media allegations of organized crime and human-trafficking networks' ties to senior politicians and local police continue to surface, adding to what many Romanians already see as growing social insecurity.

According to UN estimates, at least 3.4 million people have left Romania since 2007, when it joined the EU -- a number second only to war-wracked Syria.

Furthermore, the latest Romanian statistics show that almost 220,000 people emigrated in 2017 after the PSD-led coalition took over in December 2016 and initiated a series of measures to weaken the judiciary and the rule of law that have been criticized by the EU and United States.

As in last year's event, many Romanian expatriates are expected to show up at the August 10 protests.

"We were defeated last year," a woman from the northeastern city of Iasi told reporters on her way to Bucharest. 'We failed to push for change after August 10, we did not continue the fight to reform the system. As a result of our complacency, two girls are now dead."

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