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Romania's President Fights for Political Life in Referendum

Romania's suspended president Traian Basescu is fighting for his political life as voters decide, in a referendum, whether he should be removed from office on charges of abuse of power. But as Stefan Bos reports from Budapest for VOA, there are indications that most voters want Mr. Basescu to be reinstated.

As voting got underway, opinion polls showed that seven out of 10 Romanian voters are against the parliament's decision in April to suspend President Traian Basescu.

Romanian law allows legislators to suspend the president, who has limited powers and cannot dissolve parliament or fire the prime minister.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Basescu told EuroNews television that parliamentarians acted only to stop him from moving ahead with anti-corruption measures and other reforms, including publishing files of the former secret police, the Securitate. Mr. Basescu claims the reforms are vital under the terms of Romania's recent membership in the European Union.

"Some things didn't suit quite a few politicians: the condemnation of crimes committed under Communism; 1.5 million dossiers belonging to the old Securitate being transferred to the National Council studying the archives; and then the consolidation of the independence of the judiciary, which - and this is unprecedented - which has begun to investigate the activities of certain very important political figures," he said. "I am linked to these three initiatives."

Opponents of the president, mostly ex-Communist Social Democrats who were accused of corruption when they ruled during the 1990s, accuse Mr. Basescu of using the intelligence services to spy on them.

One of the loudest critics is former President Ion Iliescu who has been investigated for his controversial role in calling in miners to break up demonstrations against his government in 1990. The clashes left six people dead. Mr. Iliescu says President Basescu must leave or political disputes will continue

That view seems to be shared by Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu. Speaking through an interpreter, he accused Mr. Basescu of trying to please people with rhetoric, but upsetting everyone but himself.

"He succeeded in being in conflict with the parliament, the Superior Counsel of the Judiciary, many times with the government," he said. "All these things combined determined the reaction of the Parliament, that he was suspended."

The European Union, which Romania joined this year, fears the political troubles will slow down crucial reforms in the country.

Washington is also expected to closely monitor the situation. The United States wants to send hundreds of troops as early as this summer to Romania and Bulgaria as part of a bid to transfer fighting brigades from western Europe, mostly Germany, to forward bases closer to the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, for a quicker strike capability.