Thursday, May 24, 2007

AP: Romania's anti-discrimination board censures president

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's anti-discrimination board on Wednesday criticized President Traian Basescu for calling a journalist a "stinky Gypsy" during a private conversation with his wife.

The conversation was recorded accidentally on the journalist's cellular phone, which had been snatched by Basescu when she tried to film him with it during a shopping trip to a supermarket.

A Basescu spokesman later returned the phone to the journalist, and audio portions of the clip were broadcast on Romanian TV stations.

The president issued an apology Monday, saying the remarks were caused by stress. The incident happened Saturday just as Romanians were voting in a referendum on whether to impeach Basescu, who was suspended by parliament on allegations that he abused his powers. The president survived the vote, with 74.4 percent of people saying he should remain in power, and he was to be reinstated Wednesday.

The Council for Fighting Discrimination publicly reprimanded the president, saying the remark had damaged the dignity of people in the Gypsy, or Roma, community.

Basescu's legal team presented to the board information on the president's past actions in fighting discrimination against Roma, a disenfranchised minority in Romania. The president also protested that the remark was made in a private conversation with his wife, Maria, and was not intended to become public.

"The president believes a dangerous precedent is being set, allowing state institutions to analyze intimate discussions of any family," the president's spokesman Valeriu Turcan said, adding that he will appeal the board's decision.

Romania's main media club also protested the president's action to take the phone of journalist Andreea Pana, who works for the Antena television. The press club urged a media boycott of the president's reinstatement ceremonies.

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