Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Romanian political crisis worsens


Since joining the EU Romania has lurched deeper into a political crisis. The country narrowly missed a year's postponement of its EU membership after Brussels threatened the measure if Bucharest did nothing to stamp out endemic corruption.

In fact two years previously the head of state Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu presented an emergency joint plan to fight corruption. Both men belong to the same political party, the centre-right Justice and Truth Alliance, and both men had similar ambitions; ensure Romania's integration in the European Union. With Brussels one their side, the criminals would have nowhere to hide. That was the theory.

The architect of the drastic anti-corruption package was former barrister and human rights activist Monica Macovei. She became Justice minister in 2004, and persuaded parliament to approve the creation of the National Integrity Agency. Its mission was to check all ministers and members of parliament's assets, and where they came from.

This law allowed charges to be laid against
several businessmen and parliamentarians. But since then it has been attacked by the opposition and several members of the ruling party.

They accuse Macovei of using the anti-corruption campaign for political ends. The Senate has just passed a censure motion against her, but Macovei has refused to resign.

Another key government figure has been caught up in quarrels between the President and Prime Minister. The former foreign minister, Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, was another architect of Romania's EU candidature, but he had to resign at the Prime minister's request after Tariceanu only learnt from the media that two Romanians had been arrested in Iraq by the Americans.

This open warfare at the summit of Romanian politics runs the risk of pumping oxygen into the extremists' camp. They could translate this into gains when the European elections are held on 13 May.

Ananova: EU helps witches branch out

Romanian witches are carving out a lucrative new business - concocting spells to help locals get EU grants.

Until now the country's witches have confined themselves to love potions and spells to get cows to produce more milk.

But the EU expansion has seen funding for new projects flood into the country and now locals hoping to gain a slice of the action are turning to witches to boost their chances.

Witch Florica, from Pitesti in southern Romania, said: "It's a new type of spell that we had to work out of course.

"You cannot pretend you are a real witch if you cannot help a businessman get the European Union funds he wants.

"For example, only the other day I had a young businessman who came to me with his papers applying for European funds.

"I spread the cards on his documents, said my spells and splashed the papers with some potions. It only cost him about £40 for my charms but when gets the money thanks to my spells he will be happy and I will be happy because he will bring me new customers."

Witchcraft is a recognised profession in the new EU state and witches say they have adjusted their services as entrepreneurs turn to potions and spells to get the money they want.

Witches say that with entry to the EU and rights for homosexuals guaranteed in legislation, more and more gay men are also turning to them for help.

Witch Margareta from Pitesti said: "I have come up with a lot of new spells to help men to get together or for men to gain more feminine features.

"They are starting to use make up and wear jewellery and I am helping with spells to make them more attractive, make their thighs smaller and stop their moustaches growing."

Historians, diplomats cast doubts on KGB plot against Pope Pius XII

By Victor Gaetan

Catholic News Service

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNS) – Historians and communist-era diplomats have cast doubts on a former Romanian general's claim that he helped with a KGB plot to portray Pope Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer in order to weaken the Catholic Church.

Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, a Romanian intelligence chief under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, said that between 1960 and 1962 he recruited three Romanian spies to disguise themselves as priests and gain access to the Vatican Secret Archives. Their objective was to steal documents for the KGB, the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency, so the documents could be manipulated as evidence against Pope Pius, who died in 1958, said Pacepa.

Pacepa, who defected to the United States in 1978, said these documents also contributed to a devastating anti-Pope Pius play, "The Deputy," which opened in Berlin in 1963. He said a KGB chief of disinformation created an outline for the first draft of "The Deputy," which helped popularize the notion that Pope Pius supported Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Forgeries based on the stolen documents were part of the play's "historical appendix."

His claims were included in an article, "Moscow's Assault on the Vatican," posted in late January on the National Review Online.

Attempts by Catholic News Service to reach the general, directly or through his National Review Online editors, were unsuccessful. Erica Stalnecker at the National Review magazine said that Pacepa refuses all requests for interviews or more information. He does not allow his contact information, including e-mail address, to be distributed.

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, a historian and the coordinator of work supporting Pope Pius' sainthood cause, said there was a "deliberate effort on the part of the Russians to discredit Pope Pius XII" but that there is no evidence that anyone managed to get and manipulate the documents.

Father Gumpel noted that, during the time Pacepa referred to, all of the documents on Pope Pius' pontificate were in the archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State – not in the Vatican Secret Archives.

Ronald Rychlak, an adviser to the Vatican's delegation to the United Nations, is one of the few Americans given access to the Vatican's confidential six-volume report, the "Positio on Pius XII," completed in 2004. It includes sworn testimony from witnesses, historical documents, and a review of all literature, neutral and negative, pertaining to the Vatican's actions during World War II.

Rychlak called Pacepa's article "shocking." He said nothing in the positio suggests individuals gained access to the archives as part of an organized plot.

"The idea that the Soviets, or their satellites, were able to get three agents into the archives is a very serious breach of security," he said.

Rychlak, the author of two books on Pope Pius and World War II, said he thinks Pacepa's account needs to be verified in the Soviet archives.

"Pacepa's timing is questionable. Why hasn't this story been revealed until now? I hope the United States government will declassify any information it has on this important matter, to spare the time a Freedom of Information Act request takes," said Rychlak.

John Cornwell, the British author of a 1999 book, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, said he has never heard the claims described by Pacepa and considers them "most unlikely."

"As a supporter of NATO and the Western Alliance, it's not inconceivable the pope could have been targeted (by the KGB). But I haven't seen any credible documents indicating anyone doctored material," said Cornwell, whose book was criticized by church officials for its negative portrayal of Pope Pius.

Former colleagues of Pacepa, 79, expressed doubts about his story.

"Between 1960 and 1962, when he pretends he ran Vatican spies, he was in Bucharest, assigned as a deputy in the techno-scientific section of Securitate (the Romanian secret police), where he stayed until he defected in 1978," said a former high-ranking Securitate officer who would not allow his name to be used.

"In the chain of command he would not have had direct communication with the KGB generals. If he did, that would make him a Soviet agent, not a Romanian one," the source added.

"In 1959, Pacepa was in Germany under diplomatic cover. He was a captain in Cologne with a degree in chemistry and belonged to the techno-scientific section. Again, the KGB generals wouldn't have taken him into consideration," said the source, who believes Pacepa is trying to build a "mysterious aura" for himself in his later years.

"Why did he wait 29 years (since his defection) to reveal this? If it's true, it would have made so much sense to put it on the table in 1981, after the Soviet-Bulgarian plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II," the source said.

A former Romanian diplomat of the communist era, who has advised the U.S. government, expressed "deep doubts" about the account.

"Pacepa is not a serious source," said the former diplomat. "His book Red Horizons (1988) is about one-third fiction. He takes some real facts, and then invents.

"I'm afraid he is just trying to bring attention to his persona. He invokes the Vatican because the Romanian Securitate has been exhausted and is a marginal issue," he added.

"Pacepa does not document. Given the gravity of the affirmations he makes, in order to be credible, he must unveil the source, himself, or otherwise it is fiction," said the retired diplomat.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said Pacepa's story "could do more to clear the name of Pius XII than any other account."

"We need more information, though," he added. "There is no question that everything related to this incident should be declassified, from the CIA and the KGB. We need to know exactly what the Romanian intelligence knows, too."

Romanian farmers call for more subsidies

Associated Press

CLUJ, Romania --Some 1,000 farmers and their supporters took to the streets Wednesday in northwestern Romania to call for more government subsidies and to protest what they said was an ongoing lack of government strategy in the agriculture sector.

Hundreds of farmers arrived in the city of Cluj from Transylvania and other regions and drove 25 tractors through the city. Later, hundreds of local residents joined the protest.

"We want to go into Europe, but not on our knees," farmers yelled. "We want to produce, not to import and consume."

They said that the protest was designed to be a "wake up" call to the government in Bucharest and EU policy makers in Brussels. Romania, a country of 22 million, has a large agricultural sector, and half the population lives in rural areas.

Many farmers have tiny plots of land and do not have enough money to buy modern farming equipment, barely surviving on subsistence farming.

"We are protesting a lack of government strategy and incompetence in the agriculture ministry," said Mircea Durea, chairman of the recently created Association of Cow Breeders and Farmers. He said farmers wanted the government to cancel road taxes for farm vehicles and consult farmers about laws affecting the agricultural sector.

Last year, the EU told Romania's government to improve disbursement of EU aid to farmers, raise veterinary standards and farm reforms and create an EU-compatible system for the collection of value added taxes.

On Wednesday, President Traian Basescu called on the government to speed up reforms in the agricultural sector during a government meeting, warning ministers that Romania could lose EU funding for agriculture, the private news agency Mediafax reported. The comments could not be immediately confirmed.

The country joined the EU on Jan. 1.

Majority Spoils

New law sidelines minority faiths in Romania.

Christianity Today Magazine

A new religion law in Romania effectively grants government support to majority religions and denies rights to minority faiths, including some Protestants, critics say.

The measure became law days before the country's January admission into the European Union (EU). It creates a tiered government registration system based on a denomination's size. To achieve top-tier or preferential status and be eligible for government subsidies, faith groups must have roughly 22,000 members, or make up 0.1 percent of Romania's population. Groups also must be active in the country 12 years before they can register.

Protestants account for less than 6 percent of Romania's population. The Romanian Orthodox Church claims nearly 80 percent.

"The law punishes minority religions that are not favored by the state," said Angela Wu, international director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm. "It also makes it extremely difficult for new religious communities to register or obtain any kind of recognition."

According to the U.S. State Department, the Romanian government generally respects a constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. But "some restrictions adversely affected the rights of many religious groups," the State Department said in its 2006 International Religious Freedom Report. The U.S. Embassy "continuously expressed concern about discriminatory components of the draft law on religion" while it was under debate.

Religion laws recently adopted in other majority-Orthodox, Eastern European countries, particularly Belarus and Serbia, have troubled religious-freedom advocates.

Since the law requires all faith groups to re-register, some groups could lose previously enjoyed rights, said Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. These include the rights to purchase property, build religious structures, own assets, protect their legal rights in court, and hire paid staff or clergy.

The Baptist Union of Romania, with about 130,000 members, does not expect to lose any rights. But the union has decided not to accept government subsidies.

Union president Paul Negrut worried about the law's ban on "any form of public offense of religious symbols." For example, this vague wording could prohibit Protestants from criticizing Orthodox beliefs, he said, such as intercession by saints.

Negrut said the law further requires religious schools to admit students of any religion and provide teachers of the same faith for those students.

A Romanian embassy official in Washington told Christianity Today the law is part of an effort to upgrade Communist-era legislation dating from 1948 and provides freedom of worship to all religions. She said the law passed after two years of public debate and after recognized religions reached consensus on a draft proposal—a statement several groups have disputed.

Other European countries, including France, Belgium, Spain, and Austria, fund religious groups and require similar registration systems. According to Wu, critics of Romania's law worry about potential abuse, given the country's inexperience with democracy. Revolutions in 1989 and 1990 overthrew the Communist regime that had ruled since 1947.

"It will be difficult for people to read this in a way that respects religious freedom," Wu said. "The law is vague enough that it opens the door to arbitrary decision-making. We see this in many countries that have religious freedom problems and where the culture is not used to being infused with unpopular ideas."

Grieboski said he is hoping civil-rights NGOs in Romania will bring a constitutional court challenge before the law can be implemented. He is also pushing for hearings in the European Parliament.

"This new law opens a very difficult chapter for the evangelical churches," Negrut said. "Romania is perceived by the international community as a democratic country that is a member state of NATO and the EU. Due to this perception, very few people will pay close attention to religious discrimination and state interference in the life of our churches."

Romania swamped with 800,000 citizenship applications by Moldovans

Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania: Over 800,000 Moldovans — about 20 percent of the country's population — have applied for Romanian citizenship, Romanian President Traian Basescu said Wednesday.

"I ask the government to simplify procedures to grant citizenship to ethnic Romanians who live outside the country," Basescu said, adding that complicated procedures have caused the huge backlog.

About 75 percent of Moldova's four million people are of Romanian descent and are eligible for Romanian citizenship.

Since 1992, only 98,000 Moldovans have received Romanian citizenship but many Moldovans are seeking it because Romania's recent status as a European Union member facilitates their travel in Europe. Romania joined the EU in January.

Moldovans currently need visas to travel to most European countries, while Romanians can travel freely and have the right to work in some EU countries.

Moldova is Europe's poorest country, and about 600,000 Moldovans have moved abroad to find work, often illegally.

Romania minister plans to legalise prostitution

Wed 28 Feb 2007

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania, which is struggling to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation, plans to tackle the rise in prostitution by legalising it, Interior Minister Vasile Blaga told Realitatea TV.

"The interior ministry has initiated a legislative project to legalise prostitution," Blaga told the private television station late on Tuesday, adding that a draft law should be ready for public consultation in about a month.

Romania, a poor Black Sea state of 22 million which joined the European Union last month, is among 11 countries listed by the United Nations as the biggest sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims.

"If we put our cards on the table, weighing advantages and disadvantages of such a law, I believe it will be positive," Blaga told Realitatea TV.

Every year thousands of women, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well-paid jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.

Even more women could be at risk if traffickers take advantage of the easier access to EU states in richer western Europe to force more Romanian women to work as prostitutes there, observers say.

Romania's influential Orthodox Church has criticised any talk of legalising prostitution, and could try to mobilise public opinion against the government's plans.

Sunday Times: There’s no place like home

Before Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, we were warned of a flood of benefit-hungry balkan immigrants. So where are they all, asks Adam Lebor

Here’s one headline you will not be reading in Britain’s tabloids: ‘The Balkan Hordes: Where Are They?’ The hysteria surrounding the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU in January says far more about our ‘Little Englander’ mentality than the ambitions of those from eastern Europe. Nobody knows how many Romanians and Bulgarians are living in Britain, probably some tens of thousands. But most who want to work have been here for years. They include doctors, dentists, even City analysts. Last year the British embassy in Bucharest issued about 36,000 entry visas and around 3,500 work permits, half of which were for agricultural seasonal workers. The British embassy in Sofia issued 24,900 visas and 645 work permits. These visas include those for students, tourists, business visitors and agricultural workers, such as Kalina Nikoleva (above). Romanians and Bulgarians no longer require visas, but they need work permits.

The Romanian labour ministry estimates about 2m Romanians, about 20% of the workforce, already work in EU countries, many in agriculture and construction. Perhaps 15% are legally employed. Balkan emigrants usually head to Mediterranean countries, with Spain or Italy often the first choice. Romanian is similar to Italian and Spanish too comes easily.

A less-reported story, but one far more significant in the long term, is the reverse exodus, of Romanians going home. In 2005, Romania’s per-capita GDP, measured in purchasing power, was 34.7% of the EU average. But in the past two years, Bucharest has become a boom town. The Romanian economy grew by 8% last year, as foreign investment and domestic consumption increase.

Like Berlin after the fall of the wall, Bucharest is now a giant building site. Entire new residential neighbourhoods, such as the e1.2 billion Banasea project, are being built. ‘Romania is the land of opportunities, the economy is growing and the business environment is being cleaned up,’ says Dan Visoiu, a partner in the Biris Goran law firm. Visoiu, 36, whose family left Romania for the US when he was nine, is one of many young professionals to return home to take advantage of the new opportunities. ‘Those who wanted to leave had already left before January 1. Now people are starting to come back. There are many more opportunities here than abroad.’ Barely a year old, Biris Goran is now one of the top 10 law firms in Romania, and most of its young partners returned home from the US and Canada. Foreign employers agree about the pool of talent. ‘The Balkans label and all that implies has not helped Romania and Bulgaria,’ says Joe Cook, the founder of Cook Communications, which has offices in Bucharest and Sofia. ‘They are poor countries. But things are changing for the better. There are more opportunities than ever for the young and educated. I see a healthy flow of CVs into my inbox.’

Romania: Itochu proposes Maglev technology for Bucharest

Railway Market

Romanian PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu had a meeting in Tokyo with the management of the Japanese company Itochu, interested to design and implement the project on the underground line due to connect the Victoria Square to Henri Coanda Airpor.
‘'The technical solution proposed for the underground line is called Maglev which is a magnetic levitation system, without direct contact on the rails and I would say, that from a technological viewpoint, this method is the most advanced solution at present. Of course we are interested to work with Japanese companies which have extraordinary experience in the railway transport infrastructure,'' Tariceanu said.

The financing of the project worth $700 million, VAT not included, could be provided by Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

Tariceanu met with JBIC Governor Kyosuke Shinozawa, who stressed that the bank he is running, is interested in this project, given the favourable impact on the environment, which is a preoccupation of the JBIC.

Honorary Consulate of Romania

Malta Independent Online

An official from the Embassy of Romania in Rome will be available in Malta on Friday to meet people with any consular problems or issues that need to be handled by a Romanian Embassy. The Embassy of Romania in Rome is also responsible for Malta, so this will be a good opportunity to deal directly with the officials concerned. Those wishing to make an appointment should call Diane Degabriele on 2123-2111.

Nanette Real Estate in advanced talks to buy plot in Romania for 4.05 mln eur

LONDON (AFX) - Central and Eastern European residential developer Nanette Real Estate Group NV said it is in advanced negotiations for buying an 18,000 sq metres plot in Bucharest, Romania, for a total 4.05 mln eur.

The company added an international investment fund, which had signed a memorandum of understanding to subscribe to 10 pct of Nanette shares at 85 pence each, has now decided to raise its investment to 15 pct at the same price.

Nanette also said it is in a preliminary stage of exploring the possibility of reorganising all its Polish portfolio under one holding company and/or issuing shares on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. tsk/slm

Ghana: Ambassador Presents Credentials in Romania

Ghana's Ambassador to Serbia with concurrent accreditation to Romania, Dr. Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe has presented his letters of credentials to the President of Romania.

The ceremony took place on Wednesday, 14th February, 2007 at the Cotroceni Palace of the host President, Mr. Traian Basescu.

After the presentation, Ambassador Nyaho-Tamakloe engaged Mr. Basescu in a private interaction, during which the two discussed issues of bilateral and multilateral concern.

Issues deliberated on included the renewal of the Cultural, Scientific and Technical Cooperation between Ghana and Romania, increased cooperation between Romania and Ghana, Romania being a strong advocate for Ghana and Africa in the European Union, as well as the optimism about President Kufuor's ability to bring about enhanced peace, security and stability on the African continent during his tenure as Chairman of the African Union.

The Romanian President assured Dr. Nyaho-Tamakloe that Romania was ready to open its doors to Ghanaian students to further their studies in Romania universities and institutions of higher learning. He expressed the hope that during the tenure of Dr. Nyaho-Tamakloe, the already existing cordial relations between Romania and Ghana would be further strengthened, and assured his guest of his personal cooperation and support as well as that of his government.

Dr. Nyaho-Tamakloe congratulated Romania on her accession to the European Union, and conveyed his personal gratitude as well as that of the Government and the people of Ghana to the Government and the people of Romania for the support offered Ghana during last September's Summit of the Francophonie Organization in Bucharest, which ensured Ghana's admission to the Organization as an Associate Member. Dr. Nyaho-Tamakloe requested his host to consider renewing the Cultural, Scientific and Technical Cooperation which Romania and Ghana once shared and benefited from.

He responded favourably to that request and gave an assurance of the support of Romania, working through the European Union, to Ghana in particular and the African Union in general of which President Kufuor is the current Chairman.

Dr. Nyhao-Tamakloe presented his Open Letters of Credence to the State Secretary responsible for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Valentin Naumescu, at the Romanian Foreign Ministry. Discussions that followed the presentation centered on the very issues of bilateral and multilateral cooperation that were raised with the President of Romania, Mr. Traian Basescu.

Areas identified for increased cooperation between the two countries include civil engineering/construction, manufacturing and the construction industries, among others.

The State Secretary also extolled Ghana's democratic values and the economic gains made all of which was attributed to the prudent policies of the government in power.

Dr. Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe explained the current foreign policy emphasis of 'economic diplomacy' noting that it did not only require Ghana's Missions abroad to attract the necessary investment into Ghana but also to bring in quality human capital as well as scientific and technological know-how to help transform the economy into a middle income one.

Foreigners massively invest in Romania's stock market

Foreign investment in the Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB) in January almost equaled the 2006 full-year investments, the national Rompres news agency reported on Tuesday.

Despite the rather meager BVB offer in January, capital inflows exceeded outflows by 57.1 million euros (73.2 million U.S. dollars), Rompres said, quoting data of the National Securities Commission (CNVM).

Net placements were just 2.4 million euros (3 million dollars) less than the aggregate figure reported in 2006, or threefold the amount posted in December 2006 and over four times higher than that reported in January 2006.

Local analysts expect the massive inflows of foreign capital to make share prices prohibitive for small Romanian investors.

Since the beginning of this year, the BVB indices have hit several record-highs.

The number of foreign broker companies operating in the Romanian market increased to 30. Many of them are registered in Britain, including famous names like Citgroup Global Markets, J.P. Morgan Lehman Brothers, ODL Securities, First Avenue Partners and Bear Stearns Asset Management.

The foreign brokers will bring their clients to Bucharest and render the market even more dynamic.

Experts warn that the entry of foreign investors will increase price volatility. Foreigners are more prone to marking profits by rapidly selling stocks, causing quotations to fall to levels where re-acquisition is advantageous. Small and inexperienced investors are expected to need experts' advice more than ever.

Source: Xinhua

Doha Bank making foray into Europe with Romania unit

Doha Bank, Qatar’s fifth-largest lender by market value, will open a representative office in Romania within three months, the bank’s first in Europe, according to Dow Jones Newswire.

“We will open a representative office in Romania and follow it by a branch shortly,” the bank’s deputy chief executive Raghavan Seetharaman told Zawya Dow Jones on the sidelines of the Forbes CEO Middle East Forum in Qatar. Seetharaman said Romania was chosen by Doha Bank as both the countries are major suppliers of liquefied natural gas.
“This is our first move into Europe,” he said, adding that the bank has applied for four other licences in Europe.

Doha Bank has said earlier it was expanding into the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and India.
The bank last week opened a representative office in Japan with an aim to promote business with Japanese companies operating in Qatar. – Bloomberg

Romania's opposition to present request to suspend president

The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) will ask the Romanian parliament to suspend President Traian Basescu, the Rompres news agency reported on Tuesday.

The PSD will propose a referendum on impeaching Basescu, accusing the president of interfering with the judiciary and maintaining unconstitutional relations with business.

The party has collected 182 signatures of parliamentarians for the proposal, more than the one third of the 469 parliamentarians who must back a proposal before it can be submitted in the parliament's plenary session. Basescu earlier said he would not be disturbed by the PSD move. Under the Romanian law, if the proposal is adopted by the upcoming session slated for Wednesday with a simple majority, it must then be approved by the Constitutional Court and a referendum can then be held.

The opposition Conservative Party and the Greater Romanian Party have joined the PSD in calling for the impeachment. PSD leader Mircea Geoana said that the request filed 25 charges against Basescu. The charges include that Basescu misled the 2004 election, blocked two plenary sessions of the parliament and violated the principle of the separation of powers.

Source: Xinhua

Bulgaria, Romania consume more than produce

Focus Information Agency

About 88% of the EU total gross domestic product belongs to the EU old member states, 9% - to the ten states that joined the bloc in 2004, and only 3% to Bulgaria and Romania. In spite of that, the share of nine of the states is growing. Data of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies shows that the economic growth in these countries in 2006 reached 6.5% and will maintain a level of 5.4% in 2007, which is almost twice higher than the expected growth in the other part of the EU.

Hungarian tourists can stay home

In spite of the positive trends in Eastern Europe, the economic growth in Hungary marked a growth of only 2.6%, that is, only a few percentage points above the economic indices in the Western European countries, Peter Havlik, economic analyst from the Vienna Institute said. He added that the reason for the downward trend was the “package of restrictive measures” of the Liberals-led government, which resulted in a drastic reduction of consumption. Prognoses about the negative impact of the Hungarian economy’s trend on the Austrian economic development are hardly likely to materialize, said Markus Scheiblecker. According to him, Austria, which compared to most of the new EU members has a positive trade balance, will increase its export, to make up for the danger. There is a negative trend only in the sphere of tourism because the majority of Hungarians prefer to spend their vacations in Austria.

Bulgarians and Romanians buy on credit

The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies says that foreign trade in the last few years has been the major reason for the economic growth in the new member states. There seems to be a change now: on the one hand, there is an upward trend in domestic consumption due to the purchasing capacity and the rising wages. On the other hand, the Bulgarian and Romanian households are resorting more and more frequently to consumer credits allotted by banks. They spend the credits on products, most of which are imported.

The trend is observed mostly in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, which registered a huge negative trade balance. That is why, any prognoses about the economic development of the two countries are very risky, according to Havlik and Scheiblecker. Closed economies, such as the Romanian and Bulgarian ones, would better spend the accumulated money on investments, not on consumption.
Another trend, which Havlik describes as dangerous for the economic development of the two countries, is the possible drastic increase of wages, which can have a negative effect on the size of foreign investments. On the one hand, the local currencies have been recently overvalued, which results in a rise in the investors’ expenses for taxes and wages. On the other hand, however, the rise in wages is due not only to the economic growth of Bulgaria and Romania, but also to the difficulties, which foreign investors experience when they hire specialized labor force.
The labor market is making a progress. The unemployment rate in almost all the EU member states is falling and employment rising. Poland and Slovakia, where the unemployment rate in 2005 reached correspondingly 17.8% and 16.3%, managed to reduce the negative trend thanks to their economic indices.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

US historian sentenced to prison in Romania on charges of sexual abuse is freed

The Associated Press

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

IASI, Romania: An American historian sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual perversion and sexual abuse of minors was released Tuesday after serving less than five years.

Kurt W. Treptow, of Miami Beach, Florida, left the prison in this northeastern city in his lawyer's car. He was sentenced to the maximum of seven years in Dec. 2002 for offenses involving two girls, aged 10 and 13, who he invited into his home in Iasi. A Romanian woman convicted of being his accomplice is still in prison.

Treptow, who looked visibly emaciated as he left the prison, declined to comment.

The historian was released early because he wrote a book entitled "The life and Times of Vlad Dracul," while he was in prison, his lawyer Liviu Bran said. The book, penned from September 2003 until October 2006, was counted as community service, Bran told reporters.

Bran told the court during the trial his client had sex only with the 13-year-old girl and that he did not know she was a minor.

Treptow, who first studied in Romania as a Fulbright scholar during the communist regime toppled in 1989, has written and edited numerous books on Romanian history, including one about Romania's pro-Hitler World War II dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu, and another on Vlad Tepes, the historical model for Dracula.

Treptow moved to Romania in the 1990s and was director of the Center for Romanian Studies in Iasi, which is housed in a building owned by the espionage service. The service has declined to say whether Treptow worked for them.

Official Chisinau Seeks Recognition Of Moldovan Ethnicity And Minority In Romania

By Vladimir Socor

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

President Vladimir Voronin

Conflicting views on national and linguistic identity and history, marring official Bucharest-Chisinau relations, have now led Chisinau to transfer the dispute onto Romania’s turf. Responding to Bucharest’s insistence that Moldovans in the Republic of Moldova are ethnically and linguistically Romanians, official Chisinau has now begun promoting the idea that Moldovans in Romania’s part of Moldova are entitled to recognition as an ethnic-linguistic group distinct from Romanians.

On February 22-23, President Vladimir Voronin and the Moldovan parliament orchestrated an official reception in Chisinau for a three-man delegation from the newly created Community of Moldovans in Romania. This group seeks official recognition of a Moldovan ethnic identity in Romania, with the corresponding status of an ethnic minority. Such a notion is anathema to Romania’s authorities, unacceptable to Romanian society at large, and not shared by most Moldovans in Romania.

Some six or seven million people in Romania consider themselves to be “Moldovans” as an integral part of, not distinct from, the Romanian nation. (Voronin’s figure of 10 million seems exaggerated). Most of them inhabit northeastern Romania, which was the western part of the historic Moldovan Principality, the eastern part of which is today’s Republic of Moldova. Almost 3 million Moldovans reside in the Republic, and most tend to regard themselves as an ethnicity distinct from Romanians, although identical with Romania’s Moldovans.

The Community of Moldovans in Romania was legally registered by a court in the historic Moldovan capital of Iasi, near the border with the Republic of Moldova, on January 12. The three founders include a Socialist Youth Union activist from Iasi, a National Liberal municipal councilor from the city of Husi, also near the border, and an independent journalist. The declared goals are to preserve the Moldovan national and cultural identity among Romania’s Moldovans, to set up a Moldovan cultural center in Iasi, and to promote direct contacts among Moldovans on both sides of the border.

The leaders in Chisinau went out of their way to raise the visiting delegation’s profile. Voronin released a communiqué and granted a detailed interview to the media about this subject; Parliament Chairman Marian Lupu presented the delegation officially at the opening of the legislature’s sitting, to massive applause (and objections from the few Romanian-minded deputies); and public television aired a talk with the visiting group about its goals.

Voronin pledged assistance to the planned opening of a House of Moldovan Culture in Iasi or another historic site on the Romanian side of the border, where no such institution exists. The Moldovan president also offered to grant citizenship in the Republic of Moldova to those Moldovans from Romania who may request it. While acknowledging that Romanian and Moldovan “are of course the same language,” Voronin insisted that the official term “Moldovan language” should continue to be used in the Republic of Moldova and could also be used in Romania, if such is the choice of those who speak it. “Philology has nothing to do with this,” Voronin asserted, thus obliquely rebutting the oft-heard demand for renaming Moldova’s state language Romanian “based on the scientific truth.”

Voronin preemptively disclaimed any intention to revise the border or otherwise tinker with the territorial status quo. On the contrary, he reaffirmed Chisinau’s long-standing demand that Romania sign an inter-state political treaty and border agreement with the Republic of Moldova in order to sanctify the status quo. However, Voronin hinted that Moldova might seek to obtain recognition of a Moldovan ethnic identity within European institutions -- implying a Moldovan minority in Romania -- under European Union criteria for minority rights.

The prosecutor’s office in Iasi filed an appeal on February 12 against the registration of the Community of Moldovans in Romania. Romania’s legally approved list of ethnic minorities does not include Moldovans. Some Romanian officials traditionally harbor the apprehension that recognition of a Moldovan ethnicity in Romania could potentially generate irredentism toward joining Romania’s Moldova with the Republic of Moldova into a “Greater Moldova.” A handful of eccentric intellectuals in the Republic are musing about this, but they are greatly outnumbered by the Romanian-minded intelligentsia that favors merging the Republic of Moldova into a Greater Romania. This stratum is in turn greatly outnumbered in the Republic by ordinary people with a “Moldovan” ethnic consciousness. These ratios and processes are fluid and almost certainly subject to generational changes.

Such a dispute between two impoverished countries, one of which is heavily pressured by Russia economically and militarily, is mutually debilitating and hurts both countries’ standing vis-à-vis the European Union. The defensive reaction in Chisinau is clearly an overreaction to Bucharest’s recent rhetorical excesses on these issues. While Romania, safe in NATO and the EU, may play with a certain margin for error, Moldova has no such margin and needs Romania far more than the other way around.

(Moldpres, Basapres, February 22-24)

Cosmote staking a lot on growth of Romanian market

By George Hatzidakis - Reuters

Greece’s largest mobile-phone operator Cosmote expects continued growth over the next three years, fueled by its Germanos retail arm and its Romanian operations, its chief financial officer said yesterday.

Cosmote, which entered the Greek market in third position in 1998, is now one of Southeast Europe’s biggest mobile operators. It aims to become the premier player as it expands aggressively in the region.

“Romania will play a big role in our future growth; it is our biggest market,” Chief Financial Officer Ilias Fotiadis told Reuters in an interview. “There is big growth potential there as far as the telecoms market is concerned, but also as an economy.”

Last week, Cosmote reported 2006 profit growth of 6.1 percent to –360.5 million, with sales up 33 percent at –2.4 billion. Its subscriber base grew 35 percent to 11.2 million customers.

Costs related to the group’s expansion into Eastern Europe held back earnings last year. Cosmote’s Romanian investment had a loss of about –65 million. But Cosmote’s investment in Romania and its acquisition of retailer Germanos are expected to start paying off soon, with the addition of the well-established Germanos telecoms equipment retail network in the region helping to bring in more customers.

“In all countries, Germanos played a catalytic role for the growth of our subscriber base from the last quarter 2006,” Fotiadis said. “There is significant growth potential that will be seen in the coming quarters and years.”

Last year Cosmote added an extra 3 million customers. About 43 percent came in the fourth quarter alone, mainly due to the Germanos acquisition, the company said.

Cosmote is targeting 15 million clients by 2009, while Romania currently accounts for about 1.23 million customers.

“Romania will make the difference over the next five years. In the medium term, we’re targeting 2-2.5 million customers there. We are aiming for Romania to be EBITDA positive within 2008,” Fotiadis said.

Cosmote plans to further expand the Germanos network so that by the end of 2007 it will have 1,000 outlets throughout the region – Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. “Germanos will be the engine of our subscriber-driven growth. It has a big network and the best independent outlets in these countries,” Fotiadis said. “It will be our subscriber acquisition vehicle.”

Cosmote also does not rule out expanding further into the region in countries such as Serbia, where parent OTE owns 20 percent of Telecom Srbija.

“Our Serbian interest at this point is linked to OTE’s moves, any development on Telecom Srbija and its mobile arm would interest us,” Fotiadis said.

Cosmote shares trade at about 17.5 times estimated 2007 earnings, in line with Greek peers with an earnings multiple of about 17.9, according to Reuters Estimates.

Dacia-Renault bosses agree pay deal


BUCHAREST –– Bosses at the Dacia-Renault factory in Romania have struck a pay deal with unions to avert a planned strike, the company said Monday.

“We have signed a collective agreement for 2007 which will see a 20.19 percent salary increase” for junior managers, said Dacia spokesman Silviu Sepciu, adding that monthly salaries would increase by up to eight euros.

The deal came hours before a planned two-hour stoppage at a production unit at Pitesti, 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of the capital.

Workers had planned an all-out strike from the beginning of March after negotiations wage negotiations stalled. Union representatives were asking for a 25 percent rise, with management offering 18.4 percent.

Dumitru Costin, president of the BNS union, told Mediafax news agency that the average salary for Dacia’s 11,000 workers was 250 euros, but the company posted a net profit of 100 million euros (132 million dollars) last year.

Dacia, formerly a state-owned company, was taken over by French group Renault in 1999. It has made at least 15,000 workers redundant since the change of ownership.

Romania: OTL Oradea renews its rolling stock fleet

Railway Market Magazine

OTL Oradea – Local Transport Operator – renews its rolling stock fleet with 10 trams and 20 new buses.
The new means of public transport will be purchased after an auction and are necessary in the conditions in which, in the near future, many of the vehicles used until present have to be scrapped. The ten trams will cost 35 million RON.

The investments that OTL plans for this year include building a depot (1,750 million RON) and provide station installations for 55 trams and 49 buses (1,274 million RON).

OTL budget for this year reaches 510 billion ROL and was approved in the first meeting of the Local Council this year, at the beginning of January.

Romania: Cooperation between Romania and Egypt on rolling stock and infrastructure

Railway Market Magazine

Romanian president Traian Băsescu made an official visit in Egypt on February 21st 2007 where he met Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Prime-Minister Ahmed Naziv.
After the discussions, the two presidents reached the conclusion the economic exchanges between the two countries were not at all satisfying in the last years, therefore a future common objective is represented by the strengthening of economic relations. Romania has a special interest in developing cooperation relations with Egypt, especially in IT, railway infrastructure and rolling stock, as well as energetic industry domains.

Syrian Expatriates in Romania Hold Conference

Monday, February 26, 2007

BUCHAREST, (SANA) - Syrian Expatriates Association of Romanian Craiova City's Branch held its conference on Monday under the title "Golan in Memory until Liberation."
Speeches delivered at the conference opening concentrated on the situation of the Syrian expatriates in Romania.
The conference continued its activities by reading reports and voting on them, then elected Dr. Mohamad Ali al-Dardari as a Chairman of the conference in addition to members of branch council and general conference.
Thawra- Sawsan

AP: Dacia, Unions Reach Pay Offer Agreement

BUCHAREST, Romania — Renault's Romanian carmaker Dacia and trade unions reached an agreement Monday on a 20.1 percent pay offer after weeks of negotiation.

Dacia offered workers an 170 lei(euro50; US$66) per month salary raise and a 30 lei(euro9; US$11) per month profit-sharing deal, averting a two hour-strike planned for Monday, state news agency Rompres reported.

Negotiations between the automaker and the union started on Jan. 5. Dacia had previously offered a 18.4 percent pay increase.

The company and trade union leaders are to sign the official agreement on Wednesday.

A previous pay deal expired Feb 2 and the union had demanded that a new offer should take into account a rise in productivity of 180 percent in 2006 and company profits of over euro100 million (US$130 million).

French Renault bought Dacia in 1998 and the Romanian plant proved highly profitable, with a 20 percent increase in sales in 2006.

The President of the Republic of Moldova accuses Romania of intolerance

Moldova.ORG -- Vladimir Voronin, the president of the Republic of Moldova, accuses Romania of intolerance towards the Moldovan ethnic minority. The President declared for the “Moldpress” news agency on February 24 that ten million Moldovans in Romania are fighting for their identity.

“In Moldova, for example, nobody can constrain anyone to be necessarily a Moldovan. Here anyone can be Romanian, Ukrainian or Russian. We don’t get involved in the identity issues. This is the problem of the citizens themselves. Unfortunately, in Romania the list of the ethnic minorities is strictly limited and the number of all the possible national minorities is kept in the legislation. Moldovans are not among them. As far as I know this is the main difficulty for the Moldovans to legalize their statute and promote their culture in Romania.” the president said.

At the Moldovan Community Assembly, held on February 23, the president affirmed he will examine the problem to provide the Moldovans in Romania with Moldovan citizenships. The Moldovan citinzenship is considered to be a serious legal support for the Moldovans to protect their identity.
“Our attitude towards the West neighbor is so good and tolerant that a lot of officials ignore the fact that the Romanian language is taught in schools and that until last year our history was called the Romanian History. We have institutions of Romanian language and culture; we do have Romanian lyceums and Romanian newspapers. There is nothing alike in Romania,” Voronin declared.

“…We have to know our history and to be proud of it. The history of Moldova is a common European achievement. To erase this achievement from the memory of the new generations is a lack of culture. I think those times are irreversibly gone forever, the president concluded.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Torah Scroll dedicated to the memory of Romanian Jews

BUCHAREST (EJP)--- Israeli Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar and Russian philanthropist Lev Leviev were amongst the hundreds of people who attended the reopening of the renewed “Yeshua Tova - Teiferet Dov” Synagogue in Bucharest last Wednesday.

It was the first time since before WWII that the Romanian capital hosted an event which held such signifiicance for the country’s 12,000 Jews.

Amar inaugurated two Torah Scrolls, with one of them dedicated to the 400,000 Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in both Romania and the territories occupied by Hungary during the Holocaust.

The Scrolls were written during the last year and the last letters were inscribed by the Israeli Chief Rabbi himself.

Over the last decade the reopened synagogue has been used mainly for the services held by the Lubavitch representative to Romania, Rabbi Naftali Deutsche.

“It is my ardent hope that this will be the first of many events which will enable us to share our rich cultural heritage and common European values with the wider community,” Rabbi Deutsche declared.

Romania joined the European Union on 1 January 2007.

Among the personalities who attended the event and expressed their appreciation were Romanian Chief Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, FEDROM's (Federation of Romanian Jewish communities) chairman Aurel Vaine, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Joshua Pollack, Israeli Ambassador to Romania Rodica Radion-Gordon and US Ambassador to Romania Nickolas Taubman.

The event was followed by a gala reception attended by religious and secular personalities from Israel, United States, England, France, Belgium and Bulgaria, as well as international diplomatic representatives and Romanian authorities.

The following day Amar, joined Hacohen at a religious ceremony in the main Synagogue of the the Romanian Jewry, The Choral Temple in Bucharest.

Sofia News Agency: Ferry Boat to Link Bulgarria's Lom and Romania's Rastu

Business: 25 February 2007, Sunday.

The Bulgarian Danube town Lom will be connected to the Romanian city Rastu via a ferry boat, the Lom Municipality announced on Sunday.

On the Romanian coast a new port is now under construction in the city of Rastu. Financing of the port comes from the PHARE program.

The project is scheduled to be finished in the next two years.

The Lom-Rastu Ferry Boat will be the most direct connection of the Balkans with North Europe. It will be a great advantage of the small town of Lom, as the ferry boat will bring economic liveliness to Lom, its Mayor Penka Penkova said.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A world away

Friday, February 23, 2007

When Heather and Bogdan Ratiu decided to follow their dream of motorcycling across his homeland of Romania last year, they had a lot of preparing to do.

Heather, 31, quit her job in development at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

Bogdan, a 32-year-old consultant for a Christian organization that helps Romanian orphans, made arrangements for the couple to volunteer on their trip with the organization one week a month.

The Ratius also eliminated debt.

They sold most of their possessions and stored the rest in a friend's home in Bowling Green, where Bogdan had gone to graduate school.

The couple left April 16.

On the Suzuki motorcycle they'd shipped to Europe, the Ratius toured Romania through October, falling in love with the centuries-old wood churches, historic monasteries, Roman ruins and geographical beauties.

The country was a diamond in the rough, according to Heather.

And each inspiring sight she and Bogdan saw was documented on a Web site they set up at

“I thought, ‘if we're going to do this, we should try to promote Romania as a tourist site for motorcycle enthusiasts,' ” Bogdan said.

Now the blog of the trip on the Web site “shares the heart” of Romania and its people, Heather said.

But it's also chock full of photos of the country, which Heather said many unfortunately only associate with Dracula, communism and other “dismal” things.

That's something the Ratius hope to change through their Web site and a book they're writing about Romania's attractions.

They want, Bogdan said, “to give Romania a voice.”

“I know, from doing research, there's very little about Romania that translates the country's beauty for an American audience,” he said. “For an average American tourist, Romania doesn't pop up on the map.”

Heather said she thinks Romania's rural settings are particularly beautiful.

In “the countryside, I could see the green fields, I could smell the agricultural freshness,” she said.

Bogdan said he wants people to know that in his native country, a mix of terrain that makes the country interesting, including the Danube River and he Carpathian Mountains, he said.

But what he also rediscovered on the trip to his homeland “was the beauty of the people - that people are open and very hospitable,” he said. “Even if they don't understand what you're saying” they'll point you where you want to go.

Heather compared it to southern hospitality.

She and Bogdan say they enjoyed having the chance to work face-to-face with other volunteers at Caminul Felix, the organization that helps orphaned children by setting them up with guardians who raise them in a home-like environment.

Heather said she most enjoyed being able “to see life” in the children's eyes, “to see the excitement about their future.”

Bogdan likes knowing “the organization tries to give as much a sense of community to these kids as possible.”

With Caminul Felix in Romania, Heather helped with marketing, capitol campaigns and publications, while Bogdan worked for Action Felix, which raises money for Caminul Felix through a dairy farm, greenhouse, livestock operation and more.

Now the Ratius plan to continue supporting Caminul Felix and the organization's goal to expand to Thailand and Africa, in addition to promoting tourism in Romania, which became a member of the European Union in January.

While leaving their lives in this country behind to do such work meant they had to make many big changes, the Ratius say they're glad they made sacrifices to follow their dream.

“I have finally lived the experience of being passionate about something and actually following it,” Bogdan said.

He said he thinks most people don't follow their dreams because they're afraid, and he admits he felt the same at first.

But once he and Heather finalized a plan for their journey and realized they could follow it responsibly, they felt only excitement about their trip.

Now, they'd encourage others to do the same.

Though he is still a consultant for Caminul Felix, both Bogdan and Heather are now looking for full-time work in Bowling Green. That's because in addition to Heather's quitting her job to go on the trip, both she and Bogdan turned down other job offers so they could go to Romania, she said.

It's something neither would have done 10 years ago.

But it's not something either regrets at all.

In addition to helping promote Romania and Caminul Felix, the trip helped Heather learn to slow down and live in the moment, she said.

It helped Bogdan recognize the importance of each opportunity, he added.

Now, he and Heather plan to travel to Romania every year, taking friends to share its beauty.

“We'd like to take someone else along for the journey,” Bogdan said.

President of Romania pledges to pursue religious tolerance

LONDON - 23 February 2007

The Embassy of Romania in London and The Three Faiths Forum held a reception recently to mark the accession of Romania to the European Union and the forthcoming Third European Ecumenical Christian Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, European Capital of Culture 2007, in September, writes Peter Jennings.

The reception was hosted by Mrs Raduta Matache, Chargé d'Affaires at the Embassy of Romania and Sir Sigmund Sternberg, co-founder, The Three Faiths Forum. The Papal Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Faustino Sainz, was among the guests.

Mrs Matache read a special message from the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, in which he stressed that membership of the European Union: "Will give to Romania the opportunity to confirm its European vocation and to strengthen its determination in the pursuit of democracy and religious tolerance."

Mrs Matache welcomed Princess Elena and her husband, Alexander Nixon, to the reception. Princess Elena is the daughter of King Michael I of the Romanians, who is now aged 85 and lives in Switzerland. Deposed by the communists on 30 December 1947, he is the last surviving head of state from the Second World War. King Michael I is a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria.

In a message read on behalf of the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, leader of the Church of England delegation to the Assembly in Sibiu, emphasised: "There is no flourishing democracy or functioning market without a firm moral and ethical foundation. People of all faiths need to be working hard at the project of building such a foundation for the future of Europe."

Mr Wolfgang Ischinger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, that currently holds the Presidency of the European Union, warmly welcomed Romania and Bulgaria, its newest members.

© Independent Catholic News 2007

Poland, Romania and Japan refuse to ban cluster bombs

Friday, 23 February, 2007 @ 4:54 PM

Oslo - A declaration calling for a 2008 treaty banning cluster bombs was adopted Friday by 46 out of 49 nations attending a conference in Oslo, despite the absence of the U.S.

Norway's deputy foreign minister Raymond Johansen said Poland, Romania and Japan did not approve the final declaration. Officials for Human Rights Watch and the Cluster Munition Coalition also said those three countries dissented.

The gathering was snubbed by some key arms makers — including the U.S., Russia, Israel and China — but organizers said other nations needed to forge ahead regardless to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions.

Following the July-August war in 2006 that devastated Lebanon, the U.S. Senate put forth an amendment to simply "protect civilian lives from unexploded cluster munitions."

The amendment was rejected by every Republican senator, but more surprisingly Hillary Rodham Clinton among other notable Democrats also rejected to help protect civilians from mine warfare. Despite the efforts of Democrats such as Barak Obama, the amendment was rejected 70 to 30 in the Senate.

A declaration presented on the last day of the meeting urged nations to "conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument" to ban cluster bombs.

The treaty would "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," the declaration said.

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas, with some failing to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years after conflicts end until they are
disturbed, often by civilians.

As many as 60 per cent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children, the Cluster Munition Coalition said. The weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, it said.

The UN estimated that Israel dropped as many as four million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last year's war with Hezbollah, with as many 40 per cent failing to explode on impact.

Children can be attracted to the unexploded weapons by their small size, shape and bright colours, activists say.

Friday's declaration urged countries to take steps at a national level before the treaty takes effect. Norway has already done so, while Austria announced a moratorium on cluster bombs at the start of the conference.

"It is non-binding. It is not a legal document. But it is a statement of political will," Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch said of the declaration.

Norway hopes the treaty would be similar to one outlawing anti-personnel mines, negotiated in Oslo in 1997.

The U.S., China and Russia have refused to sign the landmine treaty and oppose the Norwegian initiative on cluster bombs. They did not send representatives to the meeting. Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan also did not attend. Those nations say the weapons should be dealt with in other arenas, such as the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons, known as CCW.

Goose said the major powers don't need to be involved for the treaties to have an impact. Activists say the point is to stigmatize the weapons.

"If you need proof that you can conclude a treaty without the United States, Russia and China, look at the landmine treaty," he said. Goose said even though major powers have rejected the treaty, they have stopped deploying land mines, and that the number of civilian casualties have been cut in half since 1997.

Before the meeting, activist groups feared some countries would seek to water down, or even squash, a declaration by insisting on a longer or nonexistent deadline. But Nash said the first day of talks made it clear that there would be a declaration, with the 2008 deadline, even if some countries rejected it.

The declaration said work on the cluster bomb treaty would be carried out in Lima, Peru, in May or June; in Vienna, Austria, in November or December, and in Dublin, Ireland, in early 2008.

Sources: AP, Ya Libnan

TeleGeography: Two national WiMAX licences for Romania

Romania’s General Inspectorate for Communications and Information Technology (IGCTI) has said it will offer two national 3.5GHz WiMAX licences for auction in April. The regulator says it will also set aside spectrum for four regional WiMAX concessions and a number of local licences. The head of the IGCTI, Catalin Marinescu, said that it plans to alter its licence allocation procedure ‘from comparative to competitive’.

Meanwhile, the president of Romania’s National Regulatory Authority for Communications and Information Technology (ANRCTI) is predicting that WiMAX technology will help boost broadband penetration rates in 2007. Speaking at a WiMAX conference, Dan Georgescu said that he expects broadband penetration to increase from its current level of 5.5% to around 10% by year-end. ‘That would bring us closer to the European average of 14.1%’, he said.

TeleGeography: Cosmote results: users top eleven million, half a million added in Romania in 4Q

Greek mobile group Cosmote has reported its full year and fourth quarter results for 2006. Its total group customer base grew by 35.4% year-on-year to reach 11.177 million at the end of December, up by 1.251 million in the fourth quarter. Cosmote Greece added 193,990 GSM subscribers in 4Q to reach a total of 5.217 million; Globul in Bulgaria signed up 389,379 users in the quarter to take its total to 3.271 million; Cosmote Romania finished the year with 1.226 million customers after adding 555,918 in October-December; Albanian-based AMC's end-year user base stood at 990,000, up by 89,314 in three months; whilst Macedonia's Cosmofon reported 22,180 net new subscribers in 4Q and a user base of 473,000 at 31 December. Globul saw the largest year-on-year customer growth, 36.6%, compared to 12.3% in Greece. Fourth-quarter group revenues were EUR751.8 million (USD986.5 million), up by 49% year-on-year thanks largely to its takeover of retail chain Germanos. During the fourth quarter Cosmote acquired overall control of Germanos, and is in the process of consolidating the company into the group; it has credited the acquisition of the retailer as an integral factor in its subscriber growth. EBITDA increased 26% to EUR233 million, while net profit increased just 2.3% to EUR86.6 million, brought down by extra financial charges for the takeover and other depreciation items. Germanos contributed EUR251.7 million in revenues and EBITDA of EUR19 million. Cosmote is 66.8% owned by Greek fixed line operator OTE, with the remainder in free float.

Romania: Final bids for Electroputere Craiova on March 26

The Authority for State Assets Realization (AVAS) sells through negotiation based on improved, irrevocable and final bids, a 62.82 percent stake in Electroputere Craiova SA (southern Romania).
The final bids will be submitted by March 26, 2007 at 12.00 a.m. local time and the opening of the documents will take place the same day at 2.00 p.m. local time in the presence of all prospective buyers, ACT Media news agency reports.
‘'We are trying a privatisation with shareholders having stakes of just 20 percent.

We are very interested in the investments which are made in the company, under the form of working capital or the investments made in the first year of activity for the reorganisation of the activities.

We hope that benefiting from this capital inflow Electroputere should recover because the company has outlet.

Unfortunately the costs generated by the lack of funds for reorganisation triggered the high debts which the company has today,'' said AVAS president Teodor Atanasiu.

AVAS' move is the sixth attempt for the privatisation of the Craiova-based company dealing in the production of engines, generators and electrical transformers.

Electroputere SA Craiova was set up on September 1, 1949 when it produced equipment for the electricity sector and railway transport.

In 1990 the company split into seven companies and in 1994 they merged into the current holding Electroputere joint stock company.

At present, Electroputere Craiova has four production divisions (electrical equipment, rotative electric machines, transformers and urban and railway vehicles, a division of general services and plants of tools, devices, moulded and cast parts, repairs and upgrades of machine-tools and technological installations.

Among the documents of participation which bidders, Romanian individuals or companies have to submit at the same time with the final bids are a certified statement specifying all the state-owned creditors and the main suppliers of energy resources and water of the bidder.

The statement should emphasise they do not benefit from any facilitation at the payment to suppliers of energy resources and water, according to the Government's decision no. 57/2002.

This requirement can exclude a bidder if they benefit from facilitations or rescheduling of debts to the main suppliers of energy resources and water.

(Source:, 22 February 2007)

Romania to boast share of alternative energy

In 2010 Romania will be among those European Union member states who boast the highest share of electricity produced by alternative sources, the country's national Rompres news agency reported Thursday, citing the EU statistics bureau Eurostat.

European analysts predict that the share of alternative energy in Romania's total consumption will increase in the coming years. It will nearly match Slovenia and fall behind only Portugal, Latvia, Sweden and Austria, where alternative energy contributes more than 50 percent to the total energy consumption.

In 2004, Romania ranked alongside Bulgaria, Malta and Lithuania as a country whose final per capita energy consumption remained low compared to other nations.

According to the Eurostat statistics, the Romanian primary energy output reached the equivalent of 28.4 million tons of oil in 2004, whereas the electricity output accounted for less than two percent of the EU total.

Source: Xinhua

Reuters: Romania To Buy 48 New Fighter Jets

Romania plans to buy 48 new fighter jets in the next few years to help bring its communist-era fleet up to NATO standards, Defence Minister Sorin Frunzaverde said on Feb. 22.

The poor Black Sea state joined NATO in 2004 and became an European Union member in January. It is a staunch ally of Washington’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but its Soviet-made MiG-21s are not compatible with the alliance’s missions. "We need to fulfill missions for NATO and the EU, which makes it very clear that Romania must get 48 multipurpose jets," Frunzaverde told Reuters in an interview. "I hope this year we will start the necessary procedures." Frunzaverde, who became defense minister four months ago, said the purchases would be completed by 2014.
The 80 MIGs in the Romanian fleet, which once formed the backbone of former Warsaw Pact air forces, should gradually be taken out of service by 2013, the minister said.
Several have crashed in recent years during training operations.

Romania’s fellow NATO members from the former Soviet bloc have in recent years replaced, or made plans to replace, MiGs with U.S.-made F-16s or Gripen fighters made by Sweden’s Saab and Britain’s BAE Systems. Frunzaverde said the restructuring of Romania’s military forces was almost complete. Troop numbers have been reduced to 90,000 professional soldiers from 300,000 recruits over the last decade.

The minister also said military bases due to be opened by the United States in Romania should be operational in the second half of the year.Bucharest and Washington signed a deal in December 2005 to open U.S. military facilities in the Black Sea state as part of a shift in the Pentagon’s focus from Cold War European facilities towards smaller bases closer to hotspots such as the Middle East.

The Romanian facilities and bases in Bulgaria will be the first U.S. military installations in the former Soviet bloc."The first troops might come here in the autumn, depending on when the facilities will be finished," Frunzaverde said.

Emotional Celebration in Romania

It seemed a surreal flashback to prewar Europe when thousands gathered this week to celebrate the grand opening of a newly restored 200 year-old Bucharest synagogue and the dedication of two new Torah scrolls.

The event, televised on Romanian national TV included a procession through Bucharest's thoroughfares. Police closed streets to normal traffic to allow for the singing and dancing, led by Rabbi Naftali Deitsch, Chabad Lubavitch emissary to Romania.

One Torah was dedicated by the community in memory of the thousands of Romanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The second Torah was donated by international businessman Mr. Alan Greene in memory of his grandfather.

Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar inscribed one of the final letters in the new Torah and addressed the reception. Other prominent guests included: member of the Rebbe's secretariat Rabbi Binyamin Klein, Romania’s Chief Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, American Ambassador Nicolas Taubman, Israeli Ambassador Rodica Radian-Gordon, philanthropist Mr. Levi Leviev, President of Jewish communites in Romania Uriel Weiner and Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch,Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky.

An overflow crowd filled the synagogue dedicated to the memory of the late Romanian-born Dov Indig, killed in the Yom Kippur war in Israel.

A gala reception followed the ceremony, attended by many Chabad rabbis, community leaders, and international ministers and ambasssadors.

Lubavitch News Service, A division of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Nuclear energy to make up 30 percent of Romania's energy output

One of the main objectives of Romania's business authorities is to increase to 30 percent the weight of nuclear energy in the total energy output by 2015, Minister of Economy and Trade Varujan Vosganian told a seminar on Romania's energy strategy on Wednesday.

"We are seeking to bring Romania's nuclear energy production at 28-30 percent of the total, water-power energy at 30-35 percent and the energy generated by coal, crude oil and gas at 35 percent, " said Vosganian.

The minister also said 2007 will be an energy year for Romania, as the main economic objectives will be units 3 and 4 of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant, the completion of building the Tarnita hydro-power plant and increasing by 20-25 percent the capacity of the electricity production facilities, to 75-80,000 GWats. At the same time, legislation for coal and gas generated energy is expected to be finalized.

In connection with the energy market, Vosganian said a system of direct contracting should be conceived, the energy exchange should be improved and the Romanian Commodity Exchange should get involved in energy transactions.

According to data of the National Statistics Institute, Romania 's 2006 energy production was 24.59 million tons of oil equivalent, making up 98 percent of its total energy resources. The largest share of the energy, or 61.5 percent, was generated by thermal- power plants, 29.5 percent by water-power plants and 9 percent by nuclear power plants.

Source: Xinhua

Roma history

The Romanian government will set up a panel to examine the slavery of Gypsies in the past, a statement said Tuesday. The panel will also make recommendations to promote Gypsy, or Roma, history and culture in schools, the government said. The decision comes as the country marks 151 years since slavery was abolished in Romania. Officially, Romania’s current Roma population numbers about 500,000, but polls have put the actual figure at more than 1 million. (AP)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Romania will continue to honor commitments to allies

BUCHAREST, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- Romania will continue to honor her commitments to the allies, Defense Minister Sorin Frunzaverde said on Wednesday, on a visit to northwestern town Dej. The statement of Frunzaverde came amid the announcement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding a gradual withdrawal of the British troops from Iraq.

Frunzaverde also added the decision Romanian authorities are to take in the immediate future related to a possible pullout of the Romanian troops from Iraq will first of all consider "the decision of the country's allies."

"I assure you that we are not making any move without taking into account what is actually happening on the site," he said.

Last June, former Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu put for warda proposal that Romania's troops pull out of Iraq, with the move being backed by Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu. The proposal stirred heated debates, but it was rejected by the Romanian Supreme Defense Council, the top-most executive body able to decide on security and defense matters.

After the rejection, Popescu-Tariceanu maintained that the Romanian military presence in Iraq was "unpopular and no longer useful."

Currently, there are 605 Romanian troops in Iraq, most deployed in Talil, southern Iraq.

Reuters: Romania finds no evidence of CIA jails: report

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has found no proof CIA planes used its territory to transfer terrorism suspects across Europe or set up secret detention facilities, a parliamentary commission investigating the flights said on Wednesday.

Last week, the European parliament said European governments and secret services had accepted and concealed secret U.S. flights carrying suspects across the continent.

Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty said in a report last year that Romania and Poland, staunch allies of the United States, ran covert detention facilities for the Central Intelligence Agency.

"We found no solid argument to make us believe that the CIA was running illegal transports of prisoners," Norica Nicolai, the head of Romania's senate commission told reporters at the end of a year-long investigation.

"Our response is 'no' to allegations that CIA had secret detention facilities in Romania. We also respond 'no' to queries that Romanian institutions might have taken part in an operation of transferring detainees."

Nicolai said the commission had investigated 43 flights suspected of carrying detainees and assessed several Romanian airbases deemed to be stopovers or secret CIA rendition centers in reports by non-governmental organizations and media.

The report will be debated by the Romanian parliament next week, before being sent to European legislators.

European Union lawmakers backed a final report last week concluding a year of investigations into allegations that the CIA secretly held terror suspects in Europe and flew some to states where torture is used.

In his report, Marty said over 20 mostly European countries had colluded in a web of secret CIA jails and flight transfers of terrorism suspects stretching from Asia to Guantanamo Bay.

Embassy of Romania in UK Hosts Three Faiths Forum

Written by Press Release

Last night the Embassy of Romania hosted a reception to honour the Three Faiths Forum and to mark the forthcoming Third European Ecumenical Assembly to be held in Sibiu, Romania in September 2007. The event was part of the celebrations devoted to Romania's accession to the EU.

Bringing together representatives of the UK's Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, the event celebrated the friendship and dialogue between these religions and underlined the benefits of mutual understanding amongst the three faiths.

The President of Romania, Traian Basescu, sent a message of support, recommending that the interfaith dialogue be maintained at the highest level in our contemporary world. Indeed, he said, "the new European context and its numerous challenges will give to Romania the opportunity to confirm its European vocation and to strengthen its determination in the pursuit of democracy and religious tolerance."

Sir Sigmund praised Romania for the considerable strides achieved in combating the scourge of anti-Semitism and in providing for Holocaust education. In wishing Romania well as the country consolidates its membership in the EU and takes up important chairmanships within the commission, he expressed the hope that the government would now move to the full restitution of Jewish communal and private property and give special care to the maintenance of Jewish cemeteries throughout the country.

This is an exciting and remarkable time in the modern history of Romania, Sir Sigmund said, and he looked forward to her taking a proper place at the heart of positive European endeavour.

The reception was also addressed by German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, who quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel by highlighting the message that tolerance is the soul of Europe. Ms. Raduta Matache, Charge d'Affaires of the Romanian Embassy, underlined the importance of inter confessional dialogue.

The reception was attended by many Ambassadors, and included the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Sir Anthony Figgis.