Monday, June 30, 2008

NYT: Radioactive Grass

June 29, 2008

THE WHITE KING

By Gyorgy Dragoman.

Translated by Paul Olchvary.

263 pp. Houghton Mifflin Company. $24.

In “History and Utopia,” the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran speculated about whether it’s “easier to confect a utopia than an apocalypse.” Utopia and its discontents, so central to Eastern European writers, are central to Gyorgy Dragoman’s darkly beautiful novel. A scathing portrait of life in a totalitarian society, “The White King” is both brutal and disarmingly tender. Dragoman’s answer to Cioran’s question is plain: Utopia creates its own hell.

Set in a nameless Communist country based on Romania, where Dragoman was raised, “The White King” is narrated by Djata, an 11-year-old boy whose father has been sent to a labor camp for a crime — signing “an open letter of protest” against the government — that brings ruin to his family. Djata’s mother loses her teaching job, and Djata, now “unreliable from a political point of view,” is expelled from Communist youth organizations, effectively ending his education. The boy’s grandfather, an influential party leader, is shamed into resigning his post.

No one knows if Djata’s father will ever return. This uncertainty forces Djata’s mother to take extreme measures to find out what’s happening to her husband, while her struggle to provide for the family leaves her little time for her son. Djata’s grandparents don’t offer much solace; they ignore the boy and despise his mother, convinced that she encouraged her husband’s dissident views. Djata must fend for himself, like a cold war Huck Finn tramping through concrete apartment blocks and facing down bullies.

The official party stance is that “the country’s future is its youth” and “there’s no way the party would expose this treasure to danger,” but Djata’s experience proves otherwise. After an “accident in an atomic power plant in the Great Soviet Union” reminiscent of Chernobyl, the boy is given iodine pills and forced to play soccer outdoors, taking care “to avoid contact with the ball because the ball picks up radioactivity from the grass.”

Dragoman, who now lives in Budapest, writes in Hungarian, and his prose is scintillating and acrobatic, featuring serpentine sentences that bend with each turn of Djata’s mind. Disregarding standard punctuation, the novel’s language acquires a kind of trudging exuberance — part exhaustion, part frenzy — that amply conveys the boy’s mood. Dragoman, who is 34, recounts the Eastern European experience from a fresh point of view. In his late teens when the Berlin Wall fell, he left childhood behind and became a free adult at the same time.

t one point, Djata’s grandfather takes him to a hill overlooking the city and instructs him to study the landscape as if seeing it “for the very first time or else the last time.” He suggests, Djata reports, that the boy “try looking at the whole thing, all of it as one, as if I was looking at a painting or a pretty girl, to try and see everything at the same time, it wasn’t easy doing so, he said, but if I could do it, then afterward I’d see the world differently.” Reading “The White King” has much the same effect.

Danielle Trussoni, the author of “Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir,” is writing a novel.

IMF warns Romania vulnerable, inflation a worry

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - Romania's currency has been hit hard by global financial market turmoil and the country remains vulnerable to further spillover, while inflation is a problem, the International Monetary Fund said on Friday.

"(IMF) directors expressed concern about underlying inflation pressures, as the first-round effects of food and energy price increases have already pushed headline inflation above the National Bank of Romania's target range," the IMF said in a regular assessment of Romania's economic health.
"They noted that world financial market tensions contributed to a sharp nominal depreciation of the Romanian currency, and cautioned that Romania remains vulnerable to additional adverse spillovers from events in global markets," the IMF said in a statement.

Romania economy overheating due to borrowing-cbank

BUCHAREST, June 27 (Reuters) - Romania's central bank warned on Friday that excessive domestic borrowing continued to overheat the economy, threatening inflation projections and long-term economic stability.

Governor Mugur Isarescu said the Romanian economy was likely to expand by around 8 percent this year thanks in part to a good harvest, compared to last year's growth of 6 percent.
But he said the economy was overheating and should grow more slowly.

"It is obvious that we are in a situation of overheating," Isarescu told a financial seminar.
"With wise policies, this country can ensure economic growth until adopting the euro, but a more reasonable growth would do us more good."

The central bank has raised interest rates by three points in eight months to tame inflation, hoping that by making borrowing less accessible it would weaken consumption. Interest rates now stand at 10 percent, after a quarter point hike on Thursday.

Many analysts expect the bank to pause for now, betting on inflation easing later this year due to a favourable statistical base effect.

Despite the monetary tightening, private lending rose 61 percent on the year in May. Hard currency lending for households jumped roughly 131 percent.

"We think the (current) speed of lending is excessively risky. It is essential to weaken the speed of lending growth," Isarescu said.

"For Romania it is extremely worrisome to hear that loans are made because people need money to pay their rent."

Analysts have long warned about overheating in Romania as fast consumption and credit growth fuel a large trade deficit and fan inflationary pressures.

The deficit reached 14 percent of GDP last year raising concerns about potential troubles in financing it if foreign cash flows were to dry up.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rape victim, 11, allowed abortion in Romania

By ALISON MUTLER

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The government ruled Thursday that an 11-year-old rape victim would be allowed to have an abortion in Romania, dismissing the opposition of 20 church groups.

Pro-life Christian Orthodox groups had threatened to press charges if the girl was allowed to have an abortion in Romania since it would be beyond the 14 week legal limit. The girl is 21 weeks pregnant.

The stance of the church groups was in contrast to the Romanian Orthodox Church's official view that the decision should be left to the girl's family. The parents initially wanted to travel to a country where it would be legal.

"We are talking about ... the rights of this child who was subjected to rape and incest," said Theodora Bertzi, a Labor Ministry official and who was sitting on a committee, made up of government officials and experts, who ruled on the case.

The girl's pregnancy was revealed earlier this month when her parents took her to a doctor because she appeared sick. She told doctors she had been raped by her 19-year-old uncle, who has since disappeared.

The case has bitterly split the medical community, child rights groups and the public.

In a statement, the church groups offered "material, spiritual and psychological help" to the child's impoverished family, adding they would also rear the child in a church institution if the family was unable to care for it.

But splits were apparent even within the church.

Constantin Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 percent of Romanians belong, said Wednesday it was "an exceptional situation which must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision."

He said the church considers abortion a crime, but this belief applies to normal circumstances and not to incest or rape.

Romanian rape victim, 11, to have UK abortion

By Sarah Radford and agencies
telegraph.co.uk

A 11-year-old rape victim has been flown to the UK for an abortion after she was refused a termination in her native Romania.

The girl was just 10 years old when she was allegedly raped twice by a 19-year-old man while staying with his family at a village in Neamt in east of the country.

The girl’s pregnancy was not discovered until 17 weeks – too late for an abortion under Romanian law, which allows terminations only up until the 14th week of pregnancy, and then only if the mother's life is endangered or the foetus is deformed.

Her family’s battle to secure a termination has since divided the country.

Her father said: "He told my daughter that we would beat her if we found out what had happened, and that we would abandon her, so she kept quiet.

"We only found out four weeks ago after she complained of stomach pains. Her mother took her to the hospital on June 2 - and we discovered she was pregnant.

"I wanted to kill him but he has gone on the run - no-one knows where he is."

The family had assumed an abortion would be easy to secure because of their daughter’s age.

But the shattered family were told that their daughter's pregnancy was too far advanced for a termination under local law.

"She was just a child herself and one who had been raped and betrayed.

"How could anyone expect her to go through with the pregnancy and have the baby?" explained one family friend.

The issue has bitterly divided the medical community, child rights groups and the public in Romania.

Two medical panels have so far examined the girl who is now 21 weeks pregnant.

The first found in favour of an abortion – but the second rejected an operation describing the pregnancy as "natural".

The second panel said: "Having examined the girl, the panel observes that the pregnancy is proceeding naturally and therefore that termination should not be imposed."

Doctors ignored the fact that the pregnancy was the product of a rape.

"The fact that the pregnancy stemmed from rape was not taken into account by the panel, for two reasons," explained Vica Todosiciuc, head of the Cuza Voda maternity section in the north eastern city of Iasi.

"One, because rape has not been proven. And two, because the penal code does not allow for any exceptions.

"This was a very difficult decision for the doctors to make.

"They searched for a medical reason which would allow them to authorise a termination, but none was found," he added.

Even Romania's Orthodox Church – the dominant faith in the country – has given its tacit blessing to an abortion.

It described the case as "an exceptional situation".

"It must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision," said Church spokesman Constantin Stoica.

In the latest move the Romanian Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu announced on Wednesday that an inter-ministerial panel would be formed to decide whether she can have an abortion in Romania.

But the family has taken up the offer of a trip to the UK for the termination at a clinic in London.

The cost of the procedure and the airfare is being met by a wealthy benefactor in London who made direct contact with her family.

The girl's mother said: "Panel after panel, meeting after meeting. In the meantime, my poor girl gets more and more terrified.

"The last thing she needs is more talk. Thank God for the Romanian woman in Britain who has come to her rescue," she added.

In Britain abortion is legal up to 24 weeks if two doctors decide that the risk to a woman's physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it.


20 Romanian church groups urge 11-year-old pregnant rape victim not to abort

The Canadian Press

BUCHAREST, Romania — Twenty church groups on Thursday urged a government committee not to allow an 11-year-old girl raped by her uncle to travel to Britain for an abortion.

The pro-life Christian Orthodox groups also threatened to press charges if the girl were allowed to have a termination in Romania on exceptional grounds.

Their position was in contrast with the official stand of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which said the decision should be left to the girl's family.

A government committee is to decide on Friday whether the girl can go to Britain for an abortion or must continue the pregnancy.

The girl's pregnancy only became known earlier this month when her parents took her to a doctor because she appeared unwell.

She told doctors she had been raped by her 19-year-old uncle, who has since disappeared.

She is now 20 weeks pregnant. The legal limit for abortions in Romania is 14 weeks. Abortions can be carried out later only to save the life of the mother.

In Britain an abortion is legal up to 24 weeks if two doctors decide that the risk to a woman's physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it.

The case has bitterly split the medical community, child rights groups and the public.

In a statement, the church groups offered "material, spiritual and psychological help" to the child's impoverished family, adding they would also raise the child in a church institution if the family was unable to care for it.

But splits were apparent even within the church.

Constantin Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 per cent of Romanians belong, said Wednesday it was "an exceptional situation which must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision."

He said the church considers abortion a crime, but this belief applies to normal circumstances and not to incest or rape.

The National Child Protection Authority has said the girl should be allowed to have an abortion because she is already traumatized by the experience of rape and pregnancy.

The National Doctors Council, however, said that the rights of the fetus should be considered and the pregnancy should go ahead. They argued that abortion laws should not be liberalized further.

Gov't committee rules that 11-year-old pregnant rape victim can have abortion

Thursday, June 26, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: A government committee dismissed the opposition of 20 church groups and ruled Thursday that an 11-year-old rape victim would be allowed to have an abortion in Romania.

Pro-life Christian Orthodox groups had threatened to press charges if the girl was allowed to have a termination in Romania on exceptional grounds since it would be beyond the 14 week legal limit for abortions.

The parents of the girl wanted to travel to Britain where it would be legal for the girl, who is 21 weeks pregnant, to have an abortion.

The stance of the church groups was in contrast to the Romanian Orthodox Church's official view which was the decision should be left to the girl's family.

A committee of government officials and experts set up this week to rule on the controversy said late Thursday that the girl could have an abortion in Romania.

"We are talking about ... the rights of this child who was subjected to rape and incest," said Theodora Bertzi, a Labor Ministry official and who was sitting on the committee. The committee will give its full ruling Friday.

The girl's pregnancy only became known earlier this month when her parents took her to a doctor because she appeared unwell. She told doctors she had been raped by her 19-year-old uncle, who has since disappeared.

Abortions can be carried out later than 14 weeks in Romania but only to save the life of the mother.

In Britain an abortion is legal up to 24 weeks if two doctors decide that the risk to a woman's physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it.

The case has bitterly split the medical community, children's rights groups and the public.

In a statement, the church groups offered "material, spiritual and psychological help" to the child's impoverished family, adding they would also raise the child in a church institution if the family was unable to care for it.

But splits were apparent even within the church.

Constantin Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 percent of Romanians belong, said Wednesday it was "an exceptional situation which must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision."

He said the church considers abortion a crime, but this belief applies to normal circumstances and not to incest or rape.

The National Child Protection Authority has said the girl should be allowed to have an abortion because she is already traumatized by the experience of rape and pregnancy.

The National Doctors Council, however, said that the rights of the fetus should be considered and the pregnancy should go ahead. They argued that abortion laws should not be liberalized further.

AP: Romania launches anti-smoking campaign featuring graphic photographs on cigarette packs

BUCHAREST, Romania: The Romanian Health Ministry says it is launching a campaign to dissuade people from smoking by placing graphic photographs on cigarette cartons.

The ministry says the anti-smoking campaign starting July 1 will include 14 images showing how cigarettes can harm the health of smokers as well as their children.

Research shows that smoking kills 33,000 Romanians every year. Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu says 5 million Romanians smoke. Romania has a population of 22 million.

One campaign image released Thursday shows the foot of a corpse with the warning "Smokers die younger." Another shows a child wearing a gas mask to protect from inhaling smoke.

Romania cbank hikes rates, CPI yet to peak

BUCHAREST, June 26 (Reuters) - Romania's central bank raised interest rates by a quarter point to 10 percent on Thursday, tightening borrowing costs for the sixth time running in a bid to cool stubborn inflationary expectations.

Analysts expect the bank to wrap up the current tightening cycle after this hike that brought the total increases since October to 300 basis points, because inflation is expected to ease later this year.

"This should be the last interest rate hike in this cycle," said Ionut Dumitru, head of research at Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.

Central bankers had raised market expectations of a hike at Thursday's meeting, signalling concern about overheating risks for Romania's fast-growing economy.

The decision follows a similar move by Poland this week. Eastern European central banks have tightened rates considerably since last year as inflation has shot up to multi-year highs due to rising food and fuel prices and ravenous domestic consumption.

In May, Romanian inflation came off a two-year high of 8.6 percent hit in March, edging down to 8.5 percent. But many analysts expect annual price growth to peak in July when gas and power price rises come into force.

The central bank targets inflation at 2.8-4.8 percent at the end of this year and at 2.5-4.5 percent in 2009.

Ten of 14 analysts surveyed by Reuters last week saw a hike of a quarter point. All but one analyst expected rates to remain unchanged after the June increase or be cut by the end of the year, according to the survey.

The central bank will relase a detailed statement at around 3 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).

Syria and Romania Sign agreements on investments and avoiding taxation

SANA (Syria Arab News Agency)

DAMASCUS - Syria and Romania on Tuesday signed 3 agreements on encouraging and protecting investments, avoiding double taxation and exempting diplomatic missions in both countries from the additional taxation.

Minister of Finance Mohammad al-Hussein who signed for Syria said the agreements will contribute to raising the level of relations between the two countries in all fields, particularly in trade, companies and investments.

Romanian Minister of Economy and Finance Varujan Vosganian who signed for Romania underlined that those agreements will lift any obstacles in front of trade and economic cooperation between both countries.

"The agreements will enable both states to maintain best bilateral ties as Romania is considered the first gate for Syria towards the European Union and Syria is Romania's gate into the East," Minister Vosganian added.

Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Lutfi who attended the signing ceremony said the agreements will found legal base that helps improve investments between the two states,



Thursday, June 26, 2008

Romanian gov't to decide on 11-year-old girl abortion

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romania's health minister said Wednesday a government committee will decide this week whether an 11-year-old who was raped by her uncle can go to Britain for an abortion or must continue the pregnancy.

The case, which surfaced earlier this month, has bitterly divided the medical community, child rights groups and the public. The girl is 20 weeks pregnant, which is over the legal limit for abortions in Romania. Her parents say they found out she was pregnant on June 2 when they took her to a doctor because she seemed unwell. She told doctors that she had been raped by her 19-year-old uncle, who has since disappeared.

Two local committees in northeast Romania where she lives have passed contradictory rulings. One committee said the girl should be allowed to have a legal abortion in Britain, as her parents want. A Romanian living in Britain has volunteered to finance the costs. On Wednesday, the parents received passports. Another committee ruled that because both the mother and fetus are healthy, the girl should give birth. Abortions beyond 14 weeks are illegal unless the pregnancy threatens the mother's health.

In Britain an abortion is legal up to 24 weeks if two doctors decide that the risk to a woman's physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it. The National Child Protection Authority said the girl should be allowed to have an abortion because she is already traumatized by the experience of rape and pregnancy. The National Doctors Council said that the rights of the fetus should be considered and the pregnancy should go ahead.

They argued that abortion laws should not be liberalized further. The Orthodox Church, to which most Romanians belong, called the case "an exceptional situation which must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision," church spokesman Constantin Stoica said Wednesday. He said the church considers abortion a crime, but this belief applies to normal circumstances, and not to incest or rape. Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu said the case was delicate because it involved medicine, the law and morality. A government committee will publish a decision on the girl on Friday.

Equal time for happy news on Romania TV, radio

BUCHAREST (AFP) — Upbeat news would have to make up half of all newscasts on all of Romania's radio and television stations, under legislation adopted unanimously Wednesday in the senate.

"News programmes on TV and radio shall contain, in the same proportion, news with positive and negative themes," states the legislation, which is going to President Traian Basescu for adoption.

The measure is the idea of two senators -- one from the governing National Liberal Party, the other from the far-right Great Romania party -- who bemoan the "irreversible effect" of negative news "on the health and life of people".

Its aim, they said, is to "improve the general climate and to offer to the public the chance to have balanced perceptions on daily life, mentally and emotionally".

It would be left to the national audiovisual council in Romania -- an EU member state where the media was tightly controlled until the 1989 collapse of communism -- to judge what is "positive" and "negative".

Less than impressed is the council itself, along with journalists who hope the legislation will not be promulgated.

"News is news," said council chairman Rasvan Popescu, quoted by the Mediafax news agency.

"It is neither positive or negative. It simply reflects reality. I don't believe that the introduction of such a quantitative criteria can work. Events cannot be programmed, nor can minds."

BBC shuts down Romanian service

BBC News


The BBC World Service is to close its Romanian language service, after 69 years of broadcasting.

Transmissions in Romanian will cease on 1 August.

In a statement, World Service Director Nigel Chapman praised the service, which he said had been "a beacon of free and independent information".

The closure was a result of increased media competition in Romania, falling audiences and the need for savings across the World Service, he said.

The Romanian Service will be the only language service to close during the term of the current World Service budget, which runs until April 2011, he said.

The World Service plans to retain all 31 remaining language services, six of them within Europe.

Mr Chapman said most Romanians preferred to get their news from television now and the service's audience figures had fallen to less than 3% of the adult population.

BBC broadcasting in Romanian to Moldova will also cease with the closure.

'Devastating blow'

During the Cold War the service battled against the tight media control exercised by Romania's communist authorities.

"Everyone agrees that their presence has contributed to the building of free and open media in Romania," Mr Chapman said in his tribute.

In December 2005 the BBC announced the closure of 10 language services - eight of them broadcasting to Eastern Europe - to pay for a new Arabic TV channel.

The National Union of Journalists' broadcasting organiser, Paul McLaughlin, told the BBC News website that the closure was shocking.

"It is a devastating blow for a service that is renowned for providing exemplary journalism, covering the area and the region."

He said that coming after management had given the impression that no more language services would be closed it represented a "double blow".

"It seems that, bit by bit, the BBC is intent on dismantling the World Service," he said, adding that members were considering the possibility of strike action.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

6 allegedly steal electronics from moving trailer

By PATRICK McGROARTY

BERLIN (AP) — Six Romanians have been arrested on allegations they stole mobile phones and laptops from the back of a tractor-trailer as they followed it down a German autobahn at 60 miles an hour, Dortmund police said Tuesday.

"It was an extremely dangerous stunt — like an action film," said Manfred Radecke, a spokesman for Dortmund police.

Officers, having been tipped off about the gang's tactics, were able to stake out an area and watch the thieves in action last week, Radecke said.

In the nighttime darkness, with their lights off, the men drove up behind a transport truck.

Once in place, one man climbed onto the hood of his own car, then used a bolt cutter to break a lock on the trailer door before heaving it open and climbing inside. He then handed boxes of electronics back to a second man on the car hood, who loaded them into the thieves' vehicle, Radecke said.

A second car blocked the left lane during the operation to prevent other cars from pulling too close, he said.

Because both cars had their headlights off, Radecke said, the truck driver never noticed he was being robbed.

Police received a tip about the thieves after a driver reported witnessing a similar stunt two weeks ago.

Radecke said that five of the "autobahn pirates," as the Berliner Zeitung newspaper dubbed them Tuesday, appear to have traveled from Romania for the operation and that one lives in Dortmund.

"They won't tell us where they trained, how often they did this," Radecke said. "If any other German police departments have seen odd truck thefts, we hope they contact us."

Romania to own majority stake in nuclear reactors

BUCHAREST, June 24 (Reuters) - Romania will retain a majority stake in a partnership to build and operate two more reactors at the country's sole nuclear power plant in Cernavoda, the government decided on Tuesday.

Last year, Bucharest selected six bidders to partner Nuclearelectrica.

They are Belgium's Electrabel (LYOE.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), Italy's Enel (ENEI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), Spain's Iberdrola (IBE.MC: Quote, Profile, Research), Czech CEZ (CEZPsp.PR: Quote, Profile, Research), a Romanian unit of ArcelorMittal (ISPA.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) and Germany's RWE (RWEG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research).

Nuclearelectrica initially envisioned a 20 percent stake but negotiations with the selected power firms were frozen after the government said it will seek a bigger share.

"We have reconsidered the state's participation at Cernavoda ... to a minimum of 51 percent social capital of the company that will work on the third and fourth reactors," Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu told a news briefing.

He estimated the investment in the two reactors at around 4 billion euros.

Work at the Cernavoda plant began 30 years ago. The plant's first unit went on stream in 1996 and the second in 2007. The two new units should be completed by 2015.

Romania Opens Centre for HIV/AIDS Patients

BalkanInsight.com

24 June 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s Health Minister has opened a new centre to house the National Organisation of the People with HIV/AIDS.

At the opening ceremony, Eugen Nicolaescu said the Romanian Government pays € 31 million per year for the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients with HIV/AIDS.

”The worst enemy is not the virus itself, but the ignorance, the fear, the lack of knowledge of the others, that is why patients with AIDS have such difficulties to integrate in society,” Nicolaescu pointed out.

Romania became infamous in 1990 for the squalid orphanages and babies dying of AIDS that marked the final years of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship.

The country has only about 10,000 infected people, but the vast majority of these were injected with contaminated blood as infants, from 1987 to 1991.

Romanian doctors gave ''micro-transfusions'' of blood to anemic babies. They also used immunoglobulins, made from blood products, for relatively minor illnesses. School nurses reused vaccination needles.

Nicolaescu said Romania is one of the first countries which introduced free treatment to AIDS patients and this year is working on a wide-ranging programme to tackle the spread of the virus.

This includes facilities for testing pregnant women and vulnerable people, the decentralisation of treatment and public awareness campaigns about AIDS and how it is transmitted.

European Command's senior enlisted visits Romania

By Army Sgt. Aimee Millham
JTF-E public affairs

MK AIRFIELD ADMINISTRATION CENTER, Romania — U. S. European Command's senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Farley, visited Romanian and American troops here on June 19 to observe the continued progress of Joint Task Force East and to honor his commitment to support the Romanian Army's enlisted professional development.

"I've seen a lot of improvements," Farley said. "These changes will set the conditions for bilateral relations between Romania and the U.S."

The Romanian military is undergoing a transformation that involves a recent change from conscripted to voluntary enlistment and includes the empowerment of noncommissioned officers. Farley was able to witness this transformation firsthand when he visited several Romanian units during his trip here.

"They are making great progress under this great new structure," he said.

Farley also visited Navy Seabees, Air Force firefighters, and Army aviators and medics while here, and he was impressed by what he saw.

"We're off to a great start. I saw good Soldiers who seem very happy here," Farley said. "It's a great opportunity to work side-by-side our Romanian counterparts in a nonrestrictive environment."

US Army and Romania to conduct military training

By JTF-E Public Affairs

Romania — Land forces staff and the US Army, Europe will conduct joint military training at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Administrative Airfield Center (MKAAC) and in Babadag training area from June 30 to July 30 2008.

The purpose of Joint Task Force East (JTF-E) 2008 rotation is to enhance the training and interoperability of Romanian and American troops.

The training will consist of combined firing exercises, with assigned weapons, squad and platoon level live fire training, urban tactical exercises, solving of tactical situations, other techniques of individual actions, performing mixed patrols, and giving first aid in the area of operations.

About 280 Romanian and 900 American Soldiers will participate in the exercises. In addition, two French soldiers will participate as observers.

This exercise is executed based on the treaty between Romania and United States of America regarding the US forces activities and Romanian forces, signed in 2005 and approved by the Romanian parliament in 2006.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Romania Retail Sales ‘To Double by 2018’

BalkanInsight.com

23 June 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s retail industry was worth € 31.2 billion last year and could grow by 132 percent in the next ten years, a global consultancy firm predicts.

In a study comparing retail markets across Europe, Deloitte said Romania and Bulgaria have the highest growth potential for the next decade.

The Baltic countries are also on course for significant growth but their markets are still comparatively small, Deloitte pointed out.

On the other hand, Poland, a regional giant, could see a growth in its retail industry of around 71 percent in the next 10 years, after its retail market amounted to € 140 billion in 2007.

The average increase in the European Union is estimated at 25%, analysts say.

Romania’s retail sales were the lowest in Europe last year, reaching only 31 percent of the EU average with € 1,447 per capita.

Consumer transactions at cash & carry stores, hypermarkets, supermarkets and big discount stores accounted for 40 percent of sales last year while this year, their share is set to rise to 60 percent.

Profit margins in the Romanian retail industry were up by some 10 percent compared to 2007 and this trend is likely to continue, the report said.

China, Romania vow to push forward inter-parliamentary cooperation

BEIJING, June 23 (Xinhua) -- China and Romania vowed here on Monday to push forward inter-parliamentary cooperation to step up the traditional bilateral relations.

The agreement was made during a meeting between top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo and visiting Romanian Senate president Nicolae Vacaroiu.

Wu, National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee chairman, hailed the recent growth of the China-Romania relation, saying the country appreciated the support offered by the visitors on issues such as Taiwan and Tibet.

The two sides supported each other on the issues of their respective key concerns and China always regarded Romania as one of the most important partners in east and central Europe, Wu said.

He added China would intensify its cooperation with Romania in such fields as telecom, infrastructure and human resources, and cement international coordination on world affairs.

Wu spoke positively on the exchange and cooperation between the two parliaments, encouraging them to work closely among the various working groups and special commissions, as well as that among young parliamentary members.

Vacaroiu attributed the continuous growth of bilateral relations to the attention and care given by the leaders of several generations, as well as the joint efforts of the governments and citizens of both countries.

He said Romanians would never forget the support of China when the country was in its most difficult time, noting the various political parties in the country were in consensus to further develop ties.

The Romanian Senate hoped to expand cooperation with the NPC and continue its efforts to help promote the bilateral relations, Vacaroiu said.

Monday, June 23, 2008

AP: Church welcomes ruling to allow icons in schools

BUCHAREST, Romania—The Romanian Orthodox Church is celebrating a ruling by the country’s top court that allows religious icons to remain in schools.

The Romanian Supreme Court overturned a 2007 appeal court ruling that icons should be removed from schools because they discriminated against atheists and people of other religions.

About 80 percent of Romanians are Orthodox Christians and icons are commonly seen in homes, buildings and cars. The church has enjoyed a revival after communism.

Orthodox Church spokesman Constantin Stoica said June 13 that the community, not state institutions, should decide what religious symbols are allowed in public spaces.

E.ON-Enel consortium and Termoelectrica to build 800MW plant in Romania

20th June 2008
Energy Business Review

Romanian state-owned power generator Termoelectrica and a consortium formed by German company E.ON Kraftwerke and the Italian energy major Enel, have signed a memorandum of understanding to build a coal-fired unit at the Braila power plant in Romania.

The MoU envisages a joint venture between the three parties for the development of the Braila power plant, with a new 800MW coal-fired production capacity. The project will also utilize the existing assets from the power plant currently in operation.

According to the MoU, an independent valuation of the existing assets of Termoelectrica and an analysis on the new capacity will be carried out, as part of a feasibility study. Based on the results of the feasibility study, expected by the end of 2008, the parties will decide whether or not to implement the power plant project.

Within the joint venture, Termoelectrica will contribute the existing assets of the Braila power plant, while the E.ON-Enel consortium will contribute capital for the investment. The consortium will have the majority of the shares in the joint venture, while Termoelectrica stake will be based on the value of its existing assets.

China top political advisor calls for closer ties with Romania

BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) -- China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin said here Sunday that China and Romania have been good partners and should work together to push bilateral relations to a higher level.

Jia, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remarks in his meeting with the visiting President of the Romanian Senate Nicolae Vacaroiu.

Jia visited Romania a month ago, where he held the talks with the Romanian parliament leaders.

Jia said the trip enabled him to feel the friendliness of the Romanian people towards China.

The Chinese and Romanian peoples have been friends through all weathers and the two countries have been good partners enjoying cooperation in various fields, he said.

Jia expressed his hope that the two countries would keep the current trend of frequent exchanges of high-level visits and ensure the success of cooperative projects, as they prepare to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

Jia also expressed his appreciation to the long-term support from Romanian government and parliament to China on the issues such as Taiwan and Tibet, noting that the CPPCC would continue to strengthen exchange and cooperation with the Romanian senate to promote relations.

Agreeing with Jia's views on bilateral relations, Vacaroiu said the Romanian senate values its ties with the CCPCC and hopes to expand the exchange among the various friendly groups and special commissions between the two parliaments.

He also spoke highly of China's quake relief work and the country's wish for Chinese people to overcome the natural disaster at an early date.

Vacaroiu underlined that Romania would adhere to the one-China policy and offered his best wishes for Beijing to successfully host the Olympic Games this summer.

Girl in Romania denied abortion despite rape allegation

BUCHAREST (AFP) — A medical ethics panel in Romania refused Friday to grant an abortion to an 11-year-old who had allegedly been raped by her uncle, a hospital official said.

"According to the penal code, after the 14th week of pregnancy, termination is only permissible if the mother's life is endangered or if the foetus suffers from malformation," said Vica Todosiciuc, head of the Cuza Voda maternity section in the northeastern city of Iasi.

"Having examined the girl, the panel observes that the pregnancy is proceeding naturally and therefore that termination should not be imposed."

The girl's parents discovered the pregnancy during a medical check-up two weeks ago after she complained of stomach pains. Police are hunting the uncle, who is said to have fled his home.

"The fact that the pregnancy stemmed from rape was not taken into account by the panel, for two reasons: one, because rape has not been proven; and two, because the penal code does not allow for any exceptions," Todosiciuc said.

"This was a very difficult decision for the doctors to make. They searched for a medical reason which would allow them to authorise a termination, but none was found."

An initial regional medical commission had recommended allowing termination, primarily because the girl is so young. But the law in Romania requires an ethnics panel to have the final say in cases which have gone past 14 weeks.

According to Romania's health ministry, the number of under-15s giving birth is on the increase, reaching around 500 in 2006.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cinema And Romania's Grim Past

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days speaks volumes of history

Chris Knight, National Post Published: Friday, June 20, 2008

It should have been a time of shared national pride. Beating out No Country for Old Men, among others, the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days became the first from that country to win the Palme d'Or -- the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival -- in 2007, just five months after the former Eastern bloc country was admitted into the European Union.

But back home, there was almost nowhere to see it. The nation of 22 million is home to fewer than 50 theatres and has the lowest per capita moviegoing rate of any EU member. (Canada has more than 50 drive-in theatres, and some 3,000 screens.)

Thinking on its feet, the distributor organized a 15-city, 30-day tour of the film, showing it in open-air venues, cultural centres or wherever a big enough wall could be found to serve as a screen. A film crew accompanied the caravan, and the result is a fascinating, 15-minute documentary included on the DVD release this week of 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. It's not Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show, but it's a welcome bit of levity for a film whose subject is an illegal abortion during the bleakest years of Romania under Communist rule.

Projectionists were imported from Germany; no domestic movie market means no local sprocket wranglers. One of them compares portable 35mm systems to bread-baking, a very old technology that still works and is inexpensive, to boot. In one theatre, they come upon an ancient projector called the T7, built like a tank. "Classic!" one of the Germans crows. "Soviet?" No, the machine's owner corrects him:

"Romanian." It's so grimy that the film has to be cleaned between each showing, for fear that dirt will destroy the print. The tour ends with more than 17,000 people coming out to see the film. Some of them have not been to the movies since The Last Emperor in 1987 -- coincidentally the year in which this film is set.

4 Months is not an easy movie to watch. In Cannes, it earned the sobriquet "The Romanian abortion movie," and even the viewers interviewed for the DVD's documentary provide such comments as "disturbing," "the word 'shocking' is too weak" and "this is not a pleasing movie."

It is, however, a superb piece of filmmaking. It follows two young women, one of them pregnant and as far along as the title, as they seek out an illegal abortionist, rent a hotel room and perform the deed.

Oddly, the not-pregnant one seems more concerned, and does most of the legwork. She also has to attend a birthday party at her boyfriend's parents' house, an awkward gathering that skewers the pretensions of middle-class Romanians of the time.

Writer-director Cristian Mungiu was born in 1968 and came of age during the dark years at the end of the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu. In an interview on the DVD, he discusses his artistic choices, how the film's simple, realistic look was the result of much trial and error. In the complex birthday-party scene, for instance, he realized early on that by blocking it with the actors seated around three sides of a table, he had unconsciously created a parody of Da Vinci's Last Supper. Putting the camera into the centre of the gathering helped capture the chaos of the scene, although the long takes and overlapping dialogue meant it took five days to get it right.

Mungiu avoided music and excessive editing since he felt these would serve as emotional signposts, and he wanted audiences to draw solely on the characters' emotional plight. He even kept his cameraman from raising the lens to follow a character who stands up at the table, the better to preserve the naturalistic feel.

Viewers will notice that the movie begins and ends in mid-conversation, and includes props and plots (a knife, a lost identity card) that go nowhere. This was intentional, Mungiu says. Since the action takes place over a single day, it must include "things that happen but are not accomplished in that very day."

cknight@nationalpost.com

Romania: Farmers Flex Muscles

Oxford Business Group Latest Briefing

With projections of an excellent year for agriculture, Romanian farmers are flexing their muscles and restoring trust in the industry's vast economic potential. The challenge for the medium term is for the public and private sector to come on board and get the sector on stable grounds.

Romania's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has posted impressive year-on-year growth for Q1, according to the National Statistics Institute (INS). The 8.2% figure ranks among the three highest growth levels for respective time periods since 1990, topped only by a 9% advance in 2004 and 8.3% in Q3 of 2006 and compares favourably to last year's 6% GDP growth.

The agricultural sector takes most of the credit for these positive results with output significantly higher than forecast during the first three months. Finance Minister Varujan Vosganian claimed that this year could see a 7.5% growth overall, if the agricultural sector manages to maintain its current output. This is a marked rise from the 5.5% growth outlook made by the IMF in April, which recently stated it would revise its performance prediction for Romania upwards.

The potential of the agricultural sector this year is significant. Despite 2007's disappointing crop yield - largely due to drought - farmers have benefited from government financial support as well as access to high European prices for soft commodities, such as corn and wheat.

As Felix Manolescu, head of sales for Syngenta AGRO, a crop protection and commercial seed supplier, told OBG, "For a number of farmers, this has meant sufficient funds for investment in basic materials and equipment, which was not taken into consideration in last year's budgeting period."

This, combined with rising food prices, has lead to a positive annual outlook. Moreover, the prediction for climate conditions looks positive: the country has had plenty of rainfall and farmers expect a good wheat and barley harvest. With these factors in mind, Syngenta CEO Paul Claxton, predicted a doubling of last year's output combined with a tripling of the prices, which would contribute to 10% of Romania's GDP.

Romania believes it can benefit from its agricultural sector in the long as well as short term. The country has some 9.4m hectares of arable land, of which close to 2m is unused. With the current global food shortage, this land could be brought back into use, suggesting large scope for expansion.

Furthermore , around 2m Romanian farmers are currently categorised as subsistence farmers, with plots of land smaller than 1 ha. Their consolidation would offer great potential for alleviating the difficulties in the distribution of EU-funds in the years to come and would generate large economies of scale and thus more efficient output.

Despite some sector consolidation already, the pace of rural development is relatively slow, and could be stimulated by both the public and the private sector. The government has shown its willingness to support the farming industry by introducing last year's disaster relief fund following the drought and its ongoing efforts in the distribution of EU funds, but it has neglected to keep rural development high on its agenda. The lack of development in the country's infrastructure is seen as a burden to the development of many sectors, including the farming industry.

Important initiatives have also been taken by the private sector. As Sergiu Staicu, Executive Head of GEER (Group for Expertise in Rural Economy), a Romanian private association providing Romanian farmers with financial and administrative support, told OBG. "The technical expertise is in place, it is up the private sector to ensure gaps in managerial skills are filled." Demand for the service is huge as the membership of GEER - which rose from 7 to 100 members in less than two years - shows.

Financial institutions are pivotal in the efforts to trigger support from the commercial sector. So far, construction and real estate, whose returns are seen as high and secure, have attracted their attentions. Conversely, agriculture, due to its under-developed state and recent history, has largely been neglected. Current funding comes mainly from supplying-companies providing credit in cooperation with certain financial institutions. However, high global food prices and increasing belief that these prices will continue their upwards trend are starting to attract financial interest in farming. Although unconfirmed, some first movers, including French firm Credit Agricole, are expected to show their interest shortly.

As soon as the finances are in place, other players in the private sector are likely to follow. "Rural development has a knock-on effect on all industries," Claxton told OBG. As he explained, rural development will lead to higher purchasing power nationwide, which will increase the demand in other areas such as housing, business and infrastructure. This process could provide many small farmers with a more stable and more profitable means of income, opening up smaller plots of land for consolidation by industrial farmers.

According to industry experts, the agricultural sector is set to attract capital from foreign and domestic investors as well as from increased revenues from high-priced crops. With the development of higher-level courses in agricultural education, modernisation and increased competitiveness of the industry is inevitable.

These are exciting times for Romania's farmers. With the abundance of opportunities for development, the high level of unused land, Romania's access to the Black Sea and the ongoing rise in global food prices, the country is on its way to becoming a net grain exporter. Less than a century ago, the country was considered among the world's agricultural superpowers. With private and public support in the right areas, it might eventually be able to claim back that long-lost title.

Romania Urges EU on Roma Inclusion

19 June 2008 Bucharest _ The European Commission must devise a strategy on how to integrate Europe’s Roma into mainstream society, Romania’s President Traian Basescu urges.

He made the statement at a press conference before leaving to attend Thursday’s European Council summit in Brussels.

Basescu pointed out that Romania asked the European Commission in December last year that it should present a report on the matter during this summit but the Commission has now postponed this to July 2.

“Romania will insist that conclusions of the European Council summit must refer to this matter,” Basescu said.

He emphasised that Romania is trying to sustain a balanced approach in this issue.

“Migration which is not under control would lead to an extreme social phenomenon but on the other hand, migration must continue as a way to assist European Union development,” Basescu added.

In recent weeks, diplomatic ties between Romania and Italy have come under pressure as Rome’s new government has tightened immigration policies. Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/10704

The move came in the wake of reports of crimes being committed by immigrants, including a Romanian Roma who allegedly beat to death the wife of an Italian naval commander on the outskirts of Rome.

The Italian government has made it easier for local authorities to expel European Union citizens considered dangerous. But some observers say the move was mainly targeted at up to a million Romanians who live in Italy.

It has also required an obligatory minimal income for EU citizens living in Italy and tightened restrictions for the reunification of immigrants' families.

These policies have come under fire from human rights activists and politicians in some countries, especially in Romania.

Relations between Romania and Italy and the attitude towards Romanians in Italy must not be endangered by isolated cases, Romania’s Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu pointed out.

Romania to float 5 pct more of Transgaz on bourse

BUCHAREST, June 19 (Reuters) - Romania plans to sell up to 5 percent more of gas pipeline operator Transgaz TGNM.BX on the Bucharest bourse as part of its property restitution scheme, a government member said on Thursday.

Last year Romania floated 10 percent in the state monopoly which is part of a consortium planning to build the Nabucco pipeline to bring Iranian and Caspian gas to central Europe.

"The (new) stake is just under 5 percent," Finance and Economy Minister Varujan Vosganian said during a financial seminar. "A few hundred new investors will be on the bourse at the start of the autumn."

Transgaz is the second state-controlled energy firm to float a minority stake after the listing of power grid operator Transelectrica TSEL.BX last year.

The government had also planned to list a small stake in nuclear power operator Nuclearelectrica this year, but the process has been delayed.

Transelectrica has since upped its stake on the bourse as various Romanians whose properties were seized under communism were compansated with shares in the firm.

The state offers shares in state companies as part of its compensation scheme for properties that were confiscated by the communist regime but cannot be returned to their previous owners.

Analysts have said share listings of state-owned energy firms could breathe new life into the European Union member's tiny bourse with a market capitalisation of just under 34 billion euros.

On Thursday, Transgaz traded at 222.0000 lei per share, down 0.05 percent on the day, compared to a life high of 287.0000 hit in January. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Romania renews talk of Petrom contract review

BUCHAREST, June 19 (Reuters) - Romania has renewed threats to review the privatisation contract of local oil company Petrom SNPP.BX in a pricing row that has cast a shadow over the sale of the company to Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) in recent years.

Finance and Economy Ministry Varujan Vosganian said Romania may look into the level of taxes paid by Petrom on the use of the country's oil reserves.

"It's not normal to give a company all of the oil reserves, to accept that it pays a tax smaller than half of the EU and then to not set any conditions concerning prices," Vosganian told the Money Channel late on Wednesday.

"The one thing that could be done if things continue as they have, would be to see to what extent this (sell-off) contract fits European legislation, because a tax half the size as in other states could be seen as a type of state aid for Petrom."

The Petrom privatisation has been plagued by controversy in Romania, which joined the European Union last year, since the leftist government that sold the company lost power in 2004.

Centrist politicians, including President Traian Basescu, have criticised the sale for giving away too much control over Romania's natural resources. Tax levels were also an issue.

At one point parliament had discussed cancelling the sale. Vosganian has said in the past this was not on the cards, but he has criticised the pricing policy of Romania's energy companies. Soaring global energy costs are a sensitive issue in Romania, where many people cannot afford heating in the winter months. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie, editing by Will Waterman)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

China stresses importance of military ties with Romania

BEIJING, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said here Tuesday that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) attaches great importance to developing friendly relations with the Romanian armed forces.

Liang told his Romanian counterpart Teodor Melescanu in their talks that the PLA is ready to make joint efforts with the Romanian armed forces to promote in-depth development of ties.

Hailing the deepened mutual political trust and fruitful cooperation between the two countries, Liang, also a state councilor, said the army-to-army relationship has maintained a good momentum of development in recent years.

He expressed his gratitude for the Romanian defense ministry's aid to China after the earthquake in Sichuan Province, and briefed the Romanian guests on China's relief efforts in the quake.

Melescanu said China is one of the most important partners of Romania in Asia, hailing the time-tested state-to-state relationship.

He said the Romanian side hopes to strengthen dialogue with China on international security and other areas, as well as in the areas of training and military expertise.

He added that Romania will do all it can to help the Chinese people affected by the quake, while reiterating that Romania will continue to stick to the one-China policy and believes that Tibet is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory.

Romania village elects dead mayor

BBC News


Romanian villagers have voted to re-elect a dead man as their mayor, to prevent his living rival winning.

Neculai Ivascu - who led Voinesti for almost two decades - died from a liver disease on Sunday, too late to cancel the contest.

The village's loyal residents still gave him 23 more votes than his rival, Gheorghe Dobrescu of the ruling National Liberal Party.

"I know he died, but I don't want change," one villager told Romanian TV.

In a controversial decision, the electoral commission declared the runner-up and rival Mr Dobrescu the winner.

Neculai Ivascu's party, the opposition Social Democrat Party, has said it will contest the decision.

Some villagers have also called for a fresh vote.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Romania C/A deficit widens 7.5 pct y/y in Jan-April

BUCHAREST, June 16 (Reuters) - Romania's current account deficit widened by 7.5 percent year-on-year to 4.8 billion euros ($7.37 billion) in the first four months of this year, data showed on Monday, signalling accelerating export growth.

Last year the deficit jumped by 130 percent to about 14 percent of gross domestic product after Romania's entry to the European Union meant an end to customs taxes with member states and the leu rose early in the year.

The deficit has become a key headache for Romania, exposing its economy to shocks if global financial woes were to cut down hard currency inflows.

However, a sharp reversal in the leu trend which started last summer slowed the widening of Romania's external shortfall, prompting many analysts to predict a stabilisation of the deficit for this year at around 15 percent of GDP.

Equally, analysts say the latest data reflects an improvement in Romania's export capacity as foreign direct investment generates higher value-added exports.

"The growth of the current account deficit has decelerated on the back of an improving trade balance and positive dynamics of services," said Melania Hancila, research analyst with BCR.
"It is a structural improvement, it is not caused only by the exchange rate ... so it can be judged as a positive signal."

The trade deficit, a key component of the current account, has seen exports expanding at a higher pace than imports in recent months, but the central bank said it needed more time to decide whether the trend was solid.

Central bank data showed the deficit was 66.5 percent covered by foreign direct investment, which reached 3.2 billion euros at the end of April, almost double than the level recorded in the first quarter. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; editing by Victoria Main)

Friday, June 13, 2008

EU Commission urges Romania to cut budget deficit

BRUSSELS, June 13 (Reuters) - The European Commission warned Romania on Friday that its lax fiscal policies were bad for its economy and it urged the Black Sea country to cut the budget deficit and embark on structural reforms.

The European Union executive said in a policy report on the bloc's newcomer that it risked exceeding the EU's budget deficit ceiling of 3 percent of gross domestic product next year, and macro-economic imbalances were likely to grow.

"Coupled with structural reforms, budgetary consolidation will help address the overheating of the economy and promote a more balanced catching up process with the rest of the EU," European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said. (Reporting by Marcin Grajewski; Editing by William Schomberg)

INSIGHT: Realignment in Romania

Sofia Echo

The local elections on June 1 provided the much-awaited reassessment of Romania’s political scene, setting the stage for parliamentary polls in autumn and offering a hint on the composition and trends in the country’s next legislature. With something tangible at stake, unlike last year’s European Parliament elections (Brussels is still very much a terra incognita that is of little concern to the average voter), the polls gave the closest estimate of the political parties’ standing with the electorate.

The main winner was the Democrat-Liberal party (PDL), which has made backing president Traian Basescu to the hilt its only political doctrine. Basescu, of course, is the former leader of the party, having resigned in order to become president, as he is required to do under the constitution. As usually happens in such circumstances in the Balkans, however, he continues to steer the party, barely bothering to hide the fact.

PDL received 28.4 per cent of all votes, pipping ahead of the Social Democrats (PSD), who won 28.2 per cent of the vote, final data from the electoral authorities showed. In terms of county councillors, both parties won 425 seats.

Despite the parity, PDL is entitled to view the results as an undoubted success. Four years ago, it took the combined efforts of the PDL, then named the Democratic Party, and the National-Liberals (PNL), to match the might of the ruling PSD in local polls.

Since then, the alliance between the Democrats and PNL managed to narrowly defeat PSD at both parliamentary and presidential polls, taking the reins of government, only for relations to sour and escalate into a war of words between Basescu and PNL prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu. The president’s charisma – coupled with Tariceanu’s conspicuous lack of it – has prompted a sizeable faction of the PNL to splinter away, forming the short-lived Liberal-Democrat party, which later merged with the Democrats to form PDL. The clash between Basescu, who elicits strong feelings among supporters and detractors, and Tariceanu, has resulted in PDL leaving the cabinet, with PNL securing support for its minority government from the unlikeliest of sources – PSD.

PNL itself did not do too badly for a party in power, winning 18.7 per cent of the vote and 279 councillor seats, while their coalition partners, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (abbreviated as UDMR in Romanian), secured 5.4 per cent and 89 councillor seats.

Yet the scars of the confrontation between president and prime minister, dubbed the “war of the palaces” by Romanian media – the Cotroceni palace being the residence of the president and Victoria palace the building that houses the cabinet – run deep. Deep enough so that reconciliation between the two former centre-right allies, PDL and PNL, looks unlikely.

Tariceanu, never the most popular figure even in the ranks of his own party, is another winner to emerge from the local elections. He now looks set to keep leadership of the party even after the inevitable defeat at the parliamentary elections, given the disastrous showing of Ludovic Orban in the mayoral elections in Bucharest, who finished fourth with only 12.1 per cent of the vote. Orban, the incumbent transport minister and brother of Romania’s representative on the European Commission, Leonard Orban, has been the main challenger to Tariceanu’s leadership of the party and one of the prime minister’s biggest critics inside PNL.

Tariceanu’s desire to cling to power, which he made obvious in July 2005 when he made a U-turn on his decision to resign and call snap elections, fearing that Basescu would nominate some other PNL official as prime minister designate after the vote, marked the start of acrimonious clashes with Basescu, a strong proponent of early polls. To keep PNL in government, Tariceanu is said to be considering a coalition with the Social Democrats after the parliamentary polls. This would have been an unthinkable development until recently, considering that PNL was one of the major political parties banned in the aftermath of World War 2 by the Communist party, whose successor is PSD, and the post-1989 enmity between the two parties.

Already in some county councils PSD and PNL have joined forces to deny PDL the upper hand and the Social Democrats have hinted they might not be averse to extending co-operation to a nationwide level. PSD lower chamber floor leader Viorel Hrebenciuc has gone on record as saying that PSD could drop its demands to abolish the flat tax rate, a key election promise of the Democrats and Liberals before the 2004 polls that was passed and went into force in 2005 to secure PNL’s support after this autumn’s elections.

Tariceanu’s other potential rivals in the party, including his predecessor as party leader Theodor Stolojan, left PNL for PDL, which faces its own realignment after the local elections, political columnist Silviu Sergiu wrote in the Evenimentul Zilei daily. The old Democrat guard has done a less-than-stellar job, with former minister Radu Berceanu defeated in Dolj county and another former minister, Vasile Blaga, uncertain of winning the Bucharest mayoral race on June 15. Should Blaga lose against Sorin Oprescu, a former PSD heavyweight twice defeated in run-offs, who now runs as an independent, it would be the first time that rightist parties lose control of the Bucharest mayor post since 1989.

It would also give more weight to Stolojan and his faction of PNL defectors in PDL, since their showing at the polls was the exact opposite – former agriculture minister and one-time candidate for PNL leadership Gheorghe Flutur won the county council chairperson vote in Suceava county and his cousin Catalin Flutur is the new mayor of Botosani, both of them defeating well-entrenched PSD local leaders in the process, Sergiu wrote.

Neither party has much time left to change public perceptions – as soon as summer is over, campaigning will kick into high gear, but, in the past, Romanian political parties have not managed to reverse trends in the short period of time between local and parliamentary elections, though positive momentum can bring out sympathisers to the polling stations to boost turnover and overall results.

The three major parties can rest assured that they will have a strong presence in Romania’s bicameral parliament come winter, but for the three smaller parties in the current legislature, the local elections sounded alarm bells concerning their future tenure in parliament. UDMR, ever flirting with the five-percent electoral threshold, is once again threatened by the spectre of life out of parliament, though if previous elections are any indication, it should do just enough to be represented in parliament.

The situation is much worse for the nationalist Greater Romania party (abbreviated as PRM in Romanian). The party lost ground across the country and now has councillors only in selected counties, a drastic change from the nationwide presence it won in 2004 and a far cry from the heady days of 2000, when PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor shocked the country by receiving enough votes to appear in the presidential run-off, even though he was soundly defeated. For the opportunistic Conservative party, which has repeatedly switched allegiances in recent years, the future looks even grimmer.

PRM and the Conservatives, as well as other parties now outside parliament, have a single hope, and a slim one at that, to win parliamentary seats. Even with Romania’s electoral code change, which mixes plurality voting with proportional representation, they would need to win six seats in the lower chamber and five in the upper chamber to render the five-percent threshold irrelevant. Unfortunately for all those parties, they lack the strong candidates to do so.

With PRM in danger of disappearing from Romania’s political stage, the next legislature could have the smallest number of parties of any post-communist parliament – just four. Yet that is unlikely to make political calculations after the elections any easier and Romania could once again find itself without the strong government needed to push ahead with European Union-mandated reforms, especially in the justice and home affairs department, where the country still faces potential EU sanctions. Far from settling Romania’s politics, the local elections’ realignments could spell more uncertainty for the country.

Bulgaria and Romania to Collaborate in Agriculture Area

Sofia News Agency

Joint branch organizations in the agricultural area would be created between Bulgaria and Romania, according to an agreement signed Wednesday by the Agriculture Ministers of both countries.

In the upcoming 10 days, Bulgarian experts will study Romanian experience in the subsidizing of milk production and will begin applying it in the milk production in Bulgaria.

The subsidizing of milk production from the State budget in Romania has been established by a Cabinet decision and has been coordinated with the EC. In Bulgaria such subsidizing does not exist. At the moment the Romanian State helps milk producers with EUR 0,8 per liter.

By the end of the year Bulgaria must create a National Registry and an Information System and request their notification from the EC, according to Valeri Tsvetanov, Bulgarian Agriculture Minister.

"This is precisely the direction where we would seek the Romanian assistance and afterwards we would hold an expert meeting"' stated Tsvetanov.

The Minister denied rumors that the Director of the National Veterinary Agency Zheko Boychev has been fired, adding however, that structural changes at his Ministry are forthcoming.

The Bulgarian and Romanian Minister further agreed to meet each month in Ruse or Giurgevo and to invite the Greek Agriculture Minister to those meetings as well.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Romania puts super-size seven-year-old on strict diet

Wed Jun 11, 12:17 PM ET

Romanian authorities have taken a seven-year-old boy weighing more than 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds) out of his parents custody so doctors can help him lose weight, officials said Wednesday.

"We've taken charge of him for an unlimited period. He'll be put on a regime of strict diet and physical exercise by doctors" in a special care centre, said a spokeswoman for the child protection agency in the county of Botosani.

The boy, born to low-income parents who fed him mainly on bread and lard, was admitted to hospital two weeks ago suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

The media here have recently reported a number of cases of obesity among Romanian children. Last month, parliament adopted a "healthy food" law banning junk food from school canteens and shops on school premises.

Security Tightened for Romania Local Poll

BalkanInsight.com

11 June 2008
Bucharest _ Romania's Prime Minister has asked the Interior Minister to assure better security at the second round of local elections on Sunday.

Calin Popescu Tariceanu's move came after the first round of voting on June 1 was cancelled in a village near Bucharest, because overcrowding at a polling station meant some villagers were apparently unable to vote.

The Interior Minister, Cristian David, assured the Government that more police would be sent to polling stations but also to patrol the streets.

He said that in every county there would be mobile groups of security personnel who would patrol and resolve in less than an hour claims for possible electoral fraud.

”I think this is the most efficient way to assure security at the polls stations as it is hard to prove fraud after they had been committed,” David pointed out.

He said that the number of voting cabins would be increased to prevent any more cases of overcrowding.

In voting for the June 1 poll, David said the authorities had proof that voters were given € 300 to vote for a candidate in Stefanesti village outside Bucharest. Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/10649

Hundreds of people, mostly Roma, crowded outside the local polling station, so many voters were unable to vote.

David said there will be an investigation, claiming there was “real evidence that the vote was influenced.”
The elections in Stefanesti will be repeated on Sunday.

Over 600 incidents were registered in the electoral campaign and at the first round of voting, police say.

1,474 mayors will be elected on Sunday in the second round of the election.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Former Romania Minister in Bribes Probe

BalkanInsight.com

09 June 2008
Bucharest _ Romania's former Agriculture Minister, Decebal Traian Remes, is being investigated for taking bribes, the National Anti-Corruption Department says.

He is accused of giving preferential treatment to a private company for winning a key tender.

Remes is alleged to have received in return € 15,000, a luxury car worth € 65,000 and food products.

Another former Agriculture Minister, Ioan Muresan, is also being investigated in the same case for complicity with Remes.

President Traian Basescu pointed out during a visit by his Finnish counterpart that Romania had not completed all the tasks regarding high level corruption.

In October 2007, Decebal Traian Remes resigned from government.

His move came as public television broadcast hidden camera footage of Remes meeting a former official, from whom he had allegedly received around €15,500 on behalf of a businessman. Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/6026

It has been claimed that the businessman in question wanted, in return, preferential treatment in securing a tender for a public institution.

Prosecutors have accused Remes of taking the money, and a promise of goods worth €455, from former Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan who was acting as an intermediary for the local businessman.

According to Transparency International’s corruption perception index, despite some progress made since 2004, Romania remains the most corrupt country in the European Union.