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Suspension of Romanian president brings uncertainty to new EU member and U.S. ally

Suspension of Romanian president brings uncertainty to new EU member and U.S. ally

President Traian Basescu won the hearts of his people with his roguish charm, steering Romania into the European Union this year and attracting millions in foreign investment by opening up the economy.
Now Parliament has voted to suspend him _ bringing to a head months of bickering between the president and his prime minister and ushering in a period of uncertainty for a U.S. ally that has troops in Iraq.
Thursday's vote in the opposition-dominated Parliament was ostensibly about abuse of power allegations ranging from wiretapping ministers' phones to criticizing judges. But in the backdrop is a political feud between the salty-tongued Basescu and his more straight-laced rival, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
Romanians have been mesmerized by the spectacle of their two top leaders exchanging insults in public, but also appalled as the mudslinging slowly paralyzed the workings of government.
The European Union has also been looking on nervously because it expects Romania, which joined the bloc in January, to continue with reforms to eradicate corruption and raise its economy up to the standards of richer members in the West.
The squabble between the two men started last year when Tariceanu declared Romania should pull its troops out of Iraq and Basescu disagreed. Tariceanu then hired foreign advisers to head a public relations campaign aimed at brushing up his staid image.
But so far, Basescu, a former sea captain, has been winning the battle of public opinion.
After the vote, a few thousand supporters gathered in a square in downtown Bucharest waving Romanian flags and chanting pro-Basescu slogans to listen to the president address a rally in his first public appearance since the vote.
"I am still the president of Romania," he said to an explosion of cheers. "The time has come for justice to be done in Romania. ... I am the captain of the long distance voyage and this voyage as president will be long."
In contrast to his popularity among ordinary Romanians, Basescu has grown increasingly isolated among politicians who accused him of fomenting conflict among political groups. Even close advisers have been abandoning him, bridling at his unorthodox leadership style.
Basescu, who has admitted to frequenting brothels as a young man, is known for carousing in pubs and grabbing women for a twirl around the dance floor _ then hopping into his car and driving away.
The personality clashes have contributed to government gridlock.
Last month, Tariceanu announced that relations between the two main parties in the ruling coalition had broken down, with the prime minister accusing Basescu's Democratic Party of making life impossible for Tariceanu's Liberal Party.
Romania did not have a foreign minister for weeks this year after Basescu blocked the appointment of Tariceanu's nominee for the job, saying he did not have enough experience. And there are no ambassadors in key capitals including Washington and London due to disagreement between Basescu and Tariceanu over candidates.
The feuding reached a crisis-point in late March when the leftist opposition and Tariceanu supporters accused the president of 19 instances of constitutional abuse, including trying to usurp control of the Cabinet from the prime minister.
The Constitutional Court ruled this week there was no evidence to back the charges and dismissed the accusations _ leading to Thursday's action in Parliament.
Lawmakers voted by 322 to 108 to suspend Basescu, paving the way for the legislature to suspend the president for 30 days and organize a referendum to impeach him.
More than half of voting age Romanians would have to approve a referendum for it to pass, which would be virtually impossible, given Basescu's popularity and the usually low turnout in Romanian ballots. Basescu has denied any wrongdoing, vowing to run for a new term if forced from office.
With Basescu suspended, the chairman of the Senate, Nicolae Vacaroiu, will assume the president's duties, or until a new election can be held if Basescu resigns or is impeached in a referendum.
The squabble between Basescu and Tariceanu has occasionally descended into farce.
During a recent live national television appearance last month by Tariceanu, an irate Basescu called the broadcaster to demand the premier "stop lying in public."
Basescu then proceeded to insult Tariceanu's bow tie, prompting Tariceanu to shoot back that he'd had enough of the president and wouldn't speak to him anymore.
After Basescu derided Tariceanu's attire, the premier's supporters began appearing on television wearing bow ties.