Romania corruption protests: What has sparked mass demonstrations?

More than 250,000 Romanians have taken to their nation's streets to protest in the biggest anti-corruption demonstration since the fall of communism in the country in 1989.

Violence blew up in the capital Bucharest, with protesters hurling firecrackers and smoke bombs as police responded with tear gas, as the public outcry extended for a second night.

Demonstrations have been held in half a dozen cities calling for the resignation of the government, which has been in office for less than a month, amid international criticism of the administration.

What has caused the corruption scandal?

Fury sparked when the new coalition government pushed through an emergency measure - published at 3am on Wednesday - to decriminalise bribery in office and give amnesty to dozens of officials already accused of corruption.

The Romanian President declared "a day of mourning for the rule of law", while critics were further alarmed at the hour it was pushed through.

The change in rules, which were opposed by prosecutors and the president, benefits the centre-left government's allies and Romanian officials facing corruption charges.

The changes will decriminalise cases of official misconduct in which damages are less than 200,000 lei (£37,640) while offering pardons to a number of prisoners.

How widespread is the alleged corruption?

Bloody clashes sparked amid protests at Romanian government's plans to pardon prisoners and decriminalise corruption. Credit: AP

A crackdown on corruption over the past four years uncovered widespread evidence of local officials handing out state-funded contracts in exchange for bribes and many conflicts of interest in business dealings.

Some 1,170 cases of abuse in office have been prosecuted during the past three years - just under a third of known cases - with damages amounting to £850 million.

The nation's chief anti-corruption prosecutor said the new measure "will render the anti-corruption fight irrelevant".

Romania was touted as a regional leader for targeting the rich and the powerful but the drive proved unpopular with politicians.

The leaders of the centre-left Social Democratic Party and the junior Alliance of Democratic Liberals, which form the current coalition government, both face corruption charges that prevent them from serving as ministers.

Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea was unable to become prime minister after receiving a two-year suspended jail sentence for vote rigging last year.

What is the scale of the violence amid the protests?

A kiosk was burned during skirmishes between riot police and protesters. Credit: AP

Protesters and riot police clashed in Bucharest while a newspaper kiosk was set on fire.

At least two police officers and two demonstrators were treated in hospital for minor injuries, while others on both sides suffered light injuries.

The Romanian media reported the violent protesters were football supporters and not anti-government demonstrators.

What is the government's reaction to the protests and outcry?

Romanian PM Sorin Grindeanu, left, alongside Social Democrat party Liviu Dragnea, who is barred from the top office. Credit: AP

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has shown no sign of giving ground, defending his cabinet for passing the measure along with a draft bill granting the prison pardons.

He said the new rules are designed to ease prison overcrowding and bring the criminal code into line with recent constitutional court rulings.

There has been some dissent within the Social Democrat-led government though, with Romania's business minister resigning in protest.

Florin Jianu lambasted the administration in a Facebook post, saying: "How am I going to look (my son) in the eye and what am I going to tell him over the years?

"Am I going to tell him his father was a coward and supported actions he does not believe in, or that he chose to walk away from a story that isn't his?"

What action can be taken against the government beyond the protests?

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis joined protesters in Bucharest's University Square. Credit: AP

The office of Romania's president Klaus Iohannis and the nation's top judicial watchdog have both filed challenges to fight the controversial measure in court.

The government's emergency decree will take effect in 10 days unless blocked by a constitutional court ruling.

What is the international response to the scandal?

Six western states including Germany and the United States criticised the government, while European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker expressed "great concern".

He added the fight against corruption in the European Union state "needs to be advanced, not undone".

The government's action has been criticised as the biggest retreat on anti-corruption reforms since the country joined the EU in 2007.