Romanian party leader denies wrongdoing in corruption case

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FILE - In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democratic party attends a press conference in Bucharest, Romania. The chairman of Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party has denied, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, wrongdoing in a trial where he is charged with putting no-work jobs on the government payroll. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Hundreds of Romanians protested against the government for the 15th consecutive evening Tuesday after a court hearing in which one of the country's most powerful politicians denied putting no-work jobs on the public payroll.

The case against Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, stems from his time as a regional party chief. Dragnea said after a hearing in his trial that he was innocent and that the testimony implicating him was false.

Prosecutors have alleged Dragnea intervened to keep two women who were working for the Social Democratic Party on the payroll of a family welfare agency. The women have pleaded guilty. The next hearing is March 28.

Romania's center-left government passed an emergency decree last month decriminalizing official misconduct, which would have helped Dragnea. But the decree sparked huge protests, with critics saying the government wanted to weaken efforts to crack down on official corruption.

Premier Sorin Grindeanu and his cabinet repealed the measure on Feb. 5, but protests have continued daily. On Tuesday, protesters gathered outside the government offices, yelling "Resign! Shame on you! Thieves!"

Dragnea is barred from being prime minister because of his conviction and two-year suspended sentence last year on vote-rigging charges. He calls the ban deeply unfair.