Thursday, May 24, 2007

Romanian President Basescu rapped for Saturday’s racial slur

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian President Traian Basescu was criticized yesterday by the country’s anti-discrimination watchdog for referring to a television journalist as a “stinking Gypsy.”

The comments, made by Basescu in private conversation with his wife, which were then broadcast on television, were derogatory and amounted to “discrimination.”

“We issue a warning to the president. We urge him to actively promote equality and human rights,” said the watchdog’s president, Ferenc Asztalos. “Using such wording has hurt the dignity of the Roma (Gypsy) community,” he said.

Several human rights organizations and the Romanian press club also criticized Basescu, generally viewed as a popular reformist.

The remarks provoked outrage in Romania, home to one of the largest Roma communities in Europe, with unofficial estimates saying they represent 5 to 10 percent of the 22 million population.

The president has apologized for the slur, made after an Antena 1 journalist approached him in a supermarket while he was shopping with his wife.

The reporter recorded a conversation with the president using her mobile phone, but in an altercation Basescu grabbed the device from her. The phone, which was later returned to the journalist, continued to record and picked up Basescu’s comment.

The slur was made on Saturday when the country voted in a national referendum to impeach the president.

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