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Romanians Choose President to Lead Country into EU

In Romania, voters are deciding who will lead the impoverished former Communist nation toward membership in the European Union. The elections for a new president and parliament have been overshadowed by public anger over poverty and corruption.

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Social Democratic Party, seen as the successor to the former Communist Party, face a tough challenge from the centrist Justice and Truth alliance of Liberal and Democratic parties in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Mr. Nastase's main challenger in the presidential race is Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu,

a former ship's captain, who rose to national prominence by promising to crack down on widespread corruption and poverty.

Fighting abuse of power and declining living standards are popular themes in a country where luxury cars of the well-connected often race by horse-drawn carts.

Both Mr. Nastase and Mr. Basescu are campaigning on their credentials to take Romania into the European Union by 2007 or 2008.

While Mr. Nastase has been praised for leading Romania into NATO, opinion polls show that many ordinary people feel their lives have not improved.

In a television debate, Mr. Nastase said Romania is experiencing rapid economic growth, and he urged his country's 18-million voters to elect him president, so he can finish the job of acquiring EU membership for Romania.

Competing in a field of 12 candidates, neither Mr. Nastase nor Mr. Basescu is expected to secure more than 50 percent of the vote, making a run-off on December 12 likely.

In the parliamentary elections, Mr. Nastase's Social Democratic Party and Mr. Basescu's alliance are each expected to get less than 40 percent of the vote.

The new president will replace Ion Iliescu, who is running for a Senate seat in Mr. Nastase's party, after serving three terms as president.

The outcome of the election is being watched by the European Union, which has criticized Romania for being too slow on structural reforms and fighting corruption, while failing to secure human rights and a free media.

The opposition has warned of possible electoral fraud by the government, and is setting up its own vote-counting system. The government has denied the charges.

The election is being monitored by both local and foreign observers.