December 2, 2017 / 3:01 PM / a year ago

Romanian protesters halt building of Xmas fair at protest site

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian protesters clashed with riot police on Saturday when they stopped construction workers from building a Christmas fair at the site of anti-corruption demonstrations in Bucharest.

Romanian gendarmes extract a protester from a crowd following a scuffle between anti-government protesters and riot police, in Bucharest, Romania, December 2, 2017. Inquam Photos/Bogdan Buda/via REUTERS

Victory Square saw big street protests at the beginning of the year following attempts by the ruling Social Democrats to decriminalize some corruption offences and has been a gathering place for largely peaceful protests since.

Further demonstrations have been announced on social media as parliament gears up to approve a judicial overhaul that has been criticized by thousands of magistrates, centrist President Klaus Iohannis, the European Commission and the U.S. State Department.

Earlier this week Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea, a senior Social Democrat member, said she would stage a Christmas fair for most of December in the square - a decision which Social Democrat Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said was not “the most inspired.”

On Saturday, protesters began dismantling the scaffolding and fences for the fair, waving flags and chanting “We won’t give Victory Square up,” and “Firea, don’t forget, this square is not yours.”

Three protesters were taken to a police station, riot police spokesman Georgian Enache told state news agency Agerpres. He added one of them was accused of hitting another citizen.

“We are asking Bucharest city hall to abandon immediately ... the move to fence in Victory square,” protest activists said in a statement on Facebook page Corruption Kills.

“We urge citizens to protest firmly but non-violently. We must stop this treacherous and rudimentary attempt by mayor Gabriela Firea to discourage protests at a time when they will be crucial for the future of this country.”

“This means the beginning of anarchy,” Firea said in a statement later. She said she would find another place to locate the fair.

“If the capital’s city hall was prevented from organising an event in a public space which belongs to everyone today, similar events could happen tomorrow at the presidential office, parliament and other public institutions.”

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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