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Romania's New President Pledges to Fight Corruption

Romania's new President, Traian Basescu, took office Monday pledging to fight corruption and lead his country into the European Union by 2007. But Mr. Basescu is facing difficult government coalition talks.

Speaking at a ceremony in front of parliament, Traian Basescu, 53, a colorful former sea captain, swore to serve his country as its third president since the overthrow of Communism in 1989. He pledged to dedicate much of his five year term to a crack down on corruption and raise the standard of living for millions of people below the poverty line.

He said he will revamp Romania's human rights laws as part of the reforms necessary to get Romania ready for European Union membership by 2007. "Mr. Basescu says he wants to improve democracy and press freedoms and in his words "protect state institutions from political interference," he said.

President Basescu replaces Ion Illescu, a controversial political figure who led Romania for most of the past 15 years since its bloody revolution against the Communist dictatorship of Nicolea Ceausescu.

Mr. Illiescu, 74, has been accused of supporting a deadly miners rampage in Bucharest in 1991 in a bid to end protests against his rule.

Mr. Illiescu, a former Communist, said that despite his alleged shortcomings, he oversaw Romania's difficult road to freedom and its recent membership in NATO. He said he will support the new president in his efforts to combat corruption and poverty.

He says, "Corruption is a disease of Romanian society" that undermines the people's trust in democracy.

The incoming president, whose Justice and Truth Alliance of centrist parties does not have a majority in the parliament, is now facing the difficult task of forming a coalition government. Analysts say a key player in the coalition building will be a party representing the country's almost two million ethnic Hungarians.