Romania's ruling party replaces ministers, focus on judicial overhaul

Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea gestures while delivering a speech alongside Prime Minister Mihai Tudose following a six-hour senior party meeting, in Bucharest, Romania, October 12, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's ruling Social Democrats replaced three ministers on Friday who resigned in what analysts said was indicative of a rift between Prime Minister Mihai Tudose and powerful party leader Liviu Dragnea.

The party also pledged to focus on passing justice laws that have worried the European Commission because of their implications for political control.

Nominally, the government reshuffle came because Tudose, who requested the resignations, said corruption allegations surrounding outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Sevil Shhaideh and European Funds Minister Rovana Plumb had created problems for his government with Brussels.

But analysts said it underscored tension between Tudose and Dragnea, who holds a tight grip over party ranks but was ruled out of being prime minister by a prior criminal conviction.

The reshuffle comes a little over three months since the cabinet was sworn in, a period in which ruling party tensions have stalled policymaking in one of the European Union's poorest and least developed states.

The Social Democrats swept a parliamentary election in December last year on promises to cut taxes and raise public sector and wages. In February, their attempts to weaken anti-corruption legislation triggered the country's largest street protests in decades.

In August, the justice minister proposed a judicial overhaul that could put the justice system under political control, which has raised concerns with the European Commission.

On Friday, Dragnea said the ruling coalition will meet on Monday to decide how to push forward the overhaul, as well as plans to set up a sovereign wealth fund and other measures.

"The justice legislation ... will be adopted in this parliamentary session," he told reporters.

Shhaideh, a close ally of Dragnea and currently under investigation in a land transfer case, will be replaced by Senator Paul Stanescu. Plumb will be replaced as European funds minister by Marius Nica, who has worked with her in the past.

Transport Minister Razvan Cuc, who resigned after a poor performance will be replaced by senior party member Felix Stroe. Stanescu and Stroe are seen as power brokers within the party.

At Tudose's urging, Shhaideh will continue working for the government as an adviser.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union's most corrupt states and Brussels is keeping its justice system under special monitoring.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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