Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lawmakers Debate 'Dracula' Castle Fate

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Lawmakers began debating Wednesday whether the Transylvanian fortress commonly known as Dracula's Castle was legally returned to an heir of Romania's royal family and whether he is allowed to sell it.

Bran Castle, which has been featured in many movies, was returned to Archduke Dominic Habsburg, the son of Princess Ileana, last year. The princess had been given the castle in exchange for good deeds done by the royal family, which ruled Romania from 1866 until the Communist era.

The 14th century castle was confiscated by the Communists in 1948.

Habsburg, 69, an architect from North Salem, N.Y., pledged to keep it open as a museum until 2009. He offered to sell it last year to local authorities for $80 million, but the offer was rejected because of the high price.

Opposition lawmaker Dumitru Ioan Puchianu said during a parliamentary debate that the return of the castle to Habsburg was illegal due to procedural errors. He said Habsburg is legally not allowed to sell it. Lawmakers ended the debate without voting on the issue.

In a letter released Wednesday, Habsburg's lawyers said he would file a lawsuit for $210 million in damages if parliament voted that the restitution and sale plans were illegal.

"I live once more with the feeling of dread in which I once lived, as a child, when my family and I were forced out of our home and thrown out into the streets in midwinter," he said in a letter addressed to parliament and urging lawmakers not to allow "such a dreadful injustice to happen."

Bran Castle, perched on a cliff near Brasov in mountainous central Romania, is a major tourist attraction because of its ties to Prince Vlad the Impaler, the warlord whose cruelty inspired Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, "Dracula."

Legend has it that Vlad, who earned his nickname because of the way he tortured his enemies, spent one night in the 1400s at the castle.

Bran Castle was built as a fortress to defend against the invading Ottoman Turks. About 450,000 tourists visit it every year.

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