Romania's parliament refused Tuesday to lift Prime Minister Victor Ponta's immunity to allow anti-corruption prosecutors to probe him for suspected graft.
The lawmakers rejected the request from the DNA anti-corruption agency by 231 votes to 120 in favour, meaning the prosecutors will not be able to continue investigating the premier for conflict of interest.
The investigators have said they will however press ahead with a probe into money laundering and tax evasion allegations against Ponta, dating to 2007-2011, before he became prime minister in 2012.
The result of the vote came as little surprise given the domination of parliament by Ponta's centre-left coalition, but it drew an angry response from his rival, conservative President Klaus Iohannis, who repeated his call for the premier's resignation.
"This is proof of maximum irresponsibility and a challenge to citizens," Iohannis said after the ballot.
Iohannis defeated Ponta for president in a November election upset after running on a tough anti-corruption platform.
Romania, which is one of the EU's poorest countries, is plagued by graft.
"The parliamentary majority refuses to accept the signal given by the citizens" who want "a stop to corruption, politics conducted with integrity and responsibility", said the statement from Iohannis.
The announcement by the DNA Friday that it was investigating Ponta, a Social Democrat, plunged Romania into a political crisis.
Ponta, 42, has refused to step down over the allegations, saying that the case is orchestrated by the opposition and that a criminal case against him would be "equivalent to a coup d'etat".
As long as Ponta is not being prosecuted for alleged wrongdoing committed while in office, he cannot be suspended from his duties as prime minister.
- String of probes -
The money laundering and tax evasion allegations relate to his activities as a lawmaker and lawyer.
Ponta is accused of receiving the equivalent of around 55,000 euros (about $61,000) from Dan Sova, a political ally and member of parliament suspected by prosecutors of abuse of power but who has maintained his parliamentary immunity.
This probe is the latest in a string of anti-corruption enquiries by the powerful DNA that have led to several influential Romanians losing their jobs in recent months.
Speaking before the vote, Ponta, 42, told reporters that his priority was to maintain political stability.
"I want to appear before the prosecutor to present my point of view... It is in my interest to move forward and I am confident that this matter will be clarified," he said, while describing the launch of the probe as an "error".
The US embassy in Bucharest on Tuesday issued its first statement since the crisis erupted.
"Any allegations of wrongdoing by government officials should be fully investigated without interference, and the law should be applied equally to everyone," it said, while adding that it would not comment on individual cases.
A statement from the Britain's embassy echoed the American concerns.
"The British Government recognises the importance of the fight against corruption in Romania and the need for judicial and law enforcement institutions to be able to act with complete independence and impartiality."