More voters than expected turned out for a referendum called by Romania's president in an attempt to halt the left-wing government's controversial justice reforms, official figures have showed.

President Klaus Iohannis had called the referendum, taking place on the same day as Romanians voted in the European parliament elections, to give voters an opportunity to express their opinion on the left-wing government's controversial justice reforms.

At least 30% of voters needed to turn out for the plebiscite to be considered valid and that threshold was passed at 17:15 local time

In the run up to the polls, some observers had voiced doubt that the voter threshold would be reached.

The voters were asked whether they approve of amnesties for corruption-related offences and of the use of emergency decrees by the government to change criminal penalties.

Mr Iohannis, who hails from the centre-right, has  accused the government of attempting to use both tactics to weaken the fight against corruption in what is one of the EU's most graft-ridden states.

Analysts expect a majority of Romanians to vote "no" on both counts and the higher than expected turnout will be seen as evidence that corruption remains a major concern for voters.

While the referendum has no automatic legal force, if as expected voters side with Klaus Iohannis against the government, it will be a boost for him heading into presidential elections later this year in which he will be seeking a fresh term.

It will also be a setback for the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) who had called on voters to boycott the referendum.

Romanians abroad also seemed to have turned out for the referendum in large numbers, with long queues of voters reported at Romanian diplomatic missions in Paris, London, Munich and Milan, some of them posting vehemently anti-PSD slogans on social media.