Girl's murder sparks outcry and protests in Romania

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People light candles at a makeshift memorial in front of the Romanian Interior Ministry in Bucharest on July 27 to commemorate Alexandra, the 15-year-old girl who was murdered after she telephoned police three times to report her own kidnapping

People light candles at a makeshift memorial in front of the Romanian Interior Ministry in Bucharest on July 27 to commemorate Alexandra, the 15-year-old girl who was murdered after she telephoned police three times to report her own kidnapping. (AFP Photo/Daniel MIHAILESCU)

Bucharest (AFP) - Several thousand protesters rallied in Bucharest on Saturday after Romania's police chief was fired over the murder of a 15-year-old girl who had made three emergency calls to report her own kidnapping and given clues to her whereabouts.

Critics allege that officials failed to take the alert seriously and finally reacted too late to help save the teen, identified as Alexandra.

Amid chants of "incompetence" and angry calls for the government to step down, demonstrators placed flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial outside the interior ministry on Saturday evening.

A 65-year-old suspect has been taken into custody, prosecutors said Saturday, after investigators searching his home and garden discovered human remains and jewellery belonging to the girl.

The suspect insisted he was innocent and had never met the teen but failed to explain why she had used his phone, his lawyer said.

Interior Minister Nicolae Moga announced late Friday that he had sacked police chief Ioan Buda "because drastic measures are required" in the case, which has sparked a major outcry.

- 'He's coming!' -

The girl was snatched Wednesday as she tried to hitch-hike home to Dobrosloveni in southern Romania, police said.

On Thursday morning, she managed to ring the emergency number 112 three times and provide clues to police about the place she was being held by a car driver who had picked her up.

The girl had yelled "he's coming, he's coming" before the phone call was cut off, Buda had told journalists prior to his sacking.

Three buildings were searched by officers before they finally found the house where she had been held, more than 12 hours after her phone calls.

Police then sought a search warrant, which is not required in emergencies, and waited till dawn to enter the house -- 19 hours after Alexandra's last call.

Demonstrators at Saturday's rally accused the ruling Social Democrats of weakening the criminal justice system with controversial reforms heavily criticised by Brussels.

"Why did the police not intervene earlier? Everyone needs to answer for this, from police officers and prosecutors to (Prime Minister Viorica) Dancila," protester Cristian Nan, 55, told AFP.

Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis said earlier the "resignations of all those who mishandled this case which had such dramatic consequences are obligatory".

Police believe a second teenager, whose parents reported her missing in the same area three months ago, may have been murdered by the same killer.