A group of protesters tried to break into the government building in Bucharest, but were held back by the police security cordon.
Romania, a former Communist bloc country, joined the European Union in 2008, but remains under a special mechanism monitoring the status of its judicial reforms and the fight against corruption. Some demonstrators lobbed rocks, bottles, and smoke bombs at riot police.
The demonstrators, many of whom live overseas and returned for the rally, had demanded that the left-wing government resign and that early elections be called.
Romanian police clash with anti-government protesters - "The protesters demand the resignation of the government, objecting to the perceived efforts to weaken the judiciary by the governing Social Democrats (PSD), as well as low wages and entrenched corruption in the country".
Social media footage shows the protesters assembled on a large street scrambling as the police begin giving chase and shooting tear gas to control the crowd.
Several journalists, including an Austrian public television ORF cameraman, said they were attacked with tear gas by riot police.
President Klaus Iohannis, an opponent of the Socialist Democrat-led government and a vocal critic of its corruption policy, criticised the police reaction as "brutal".
More than 400 people required medical assistance, the emergency intervention agency ISU said, including two riot police who got separated from their unit.
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Local television station 1TV says the number of fatalities has risen to more than 100, but there is no official confirmation. Abdul Wakil, who had managed to flee, told Reuters: "There was burning and fire and dead bodies everywhere in the city".
"The interior ministry must explain urgently the way it handled tonight's events", the centrist leader wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. Messages projected on buildings around the square said "We are the people" and "No violence".
An estimated three to five million Romanians work and live overseas, the World Bank has said, up to a quarter of the state's population, taking roles ranging from day labourers to doctors.
The money provides a lifeline for rural communities in one of the EU's least developed countries.
"I left to give my children a better life, which was not possible here then", said Ostafi.
Some of the estimated 3 million Romanians living overseas say they left because of corruption, low wages, and lack of opportunities. The changes are being challenged in the Constitutional Court.
Ileana Anghel travelled all the way from her home in Spain with her husband to take part in the demonstration. "I would ask our ruling politicians to switch places with us, work the way we do and see what that is like". Romanians gathered for a second day of protest Saturday, a day after an anti-government protest turned violent leaving 455 people, including three dozen riot police, needing medical treatment.
People shine the lights of their mobile phones during a protest outside the government headquarters in Bucharest.
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