Sunday, August 31, 2008

Romania panflutist Zamfir hospitalized in accident

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Police say panflutist Gheorghe Zamfir has been hospitalized after being hit by a car near his home in Bucharest.

Police spokesman Christian Ciocan says the accident happened when Zamfir crossed the street home near Bucharest's Gara de Nord railway station. The driver of the car did not stop.
Zamfir, who is 67, is in stable condition.
Ciocan says a man told police Sunday that he had caused Friday's accident.
Zamfir played for world leaders including U.S. President George Bush during a NATO summit in April in Bucharest.

Known as «master of the pan flute,» Zamfir has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and been awarded 120 gold and platinum discs.

Demand still outstrips supply in many property sectors in Romania

propertywire.com

Romania is still 'the undiscovered Europe' with demand outstripping supply in many property sectors, according to the latest analysis of the country. EU membership, a growing number of tourists and rising numbers of property investors have all helped to make the first half of 2008 a good year for the real estate sector.Also the growth of multinational companies such as GE and Proctor & Gamble has already pushed up the attractiveness of Bucharest in the buy-to-let market.

The commercial sector is booming because of soaring demand for modern office buildings, according to the 2008 real estate market overview report from CB Richard Ellis.'The demand for office space is driven by the auto industry, financial institutions, retailers and IT and telecoms. Vacancy rates in the office sector are below an overall rate of 3% with only 1% for premises considered to be Class A,' the report says.

Analysts believe that the lease market in the residential luxury sector is still emerging. Roughly 95% of all homes built are for sale, according to the report. The most sought after are for rental are three bedroom homes, followed by two bedroom homes. However there is an oversupply of four and five bedroom properties.

A huge number of residential projects are expected to be completed in 2008, according to the report and this will inject a stiff competition in the residential property market, giving buyers an advantage they didn't have in preceding years.Sale prices per square meter are expected to grow by 10 to 30% because of rising costs of construction. But the report warns that the danger for overbuilding exists, and investors would do well to heed the example set by Phoenix and Las Vegas, which saw their property markets crash in the wake of overbuilding.Outside Bucharest the property market is less reliable as an investment prospect. The Black Sea coast suffers from high prices and poor service, limiting the number visitors that choose it as a destination.

According to 2K Properties Ltd, a Romanian property and land investment company, the Transylvanian countryside is an alternative option for people who are looking to buy ramshackle properties for cheap prices and transform them into real estate gems. If the tourism market increases as planned, such properties could be used as holiday rentals and for the growing bed and breakfast market.

Romania in efforts to curb trade imbalance with Turkey

Romania is making efforts with the view to offset the country's almost one billion euro imbalance in the Romanian-Turkish trade, according to a statement released by the Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Trade in Bucharest (CCIB).

The CCIB's statement released on Aug. 20 said, the CCIB take steps with the Embassy of Turkey for the establishment of connections with the chamber system to facilitate an increase in the volume of Romanian goods sold on the Turkish market. The chamber is also proposed to for greater diversification of Romanian products, with an emphasis on goods with high tax added value. Even with a 30 percent annual increase in Romanian-Turkish trade, the difference of almost one billion euros between imports and exports, which does not favor Romania, is also seen as a factor that could damage bilateral relations between the two countries.

The representatives of the management of the CCIB met with the economic adviser of the Turkish Embassy in Bucharest, Necati Ylmaz, to obtain assistance in contacting the chambers of commerce from Turkey’s main economic and commercial centers, financiarul.ro reported.

The CCIB said it would support Turkey in identifying the main exporters from Bucharest, the report also said. The two sides also agreed to a possible cooperation between Turkish and Romania companies on third markets, especially in ex-Soviet markets, the report added.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Romania eyes harvest rise

BUCHAREST (AFP) - Romania’s wheat harvest is expected to rise this year, boosting growth and stabilising food prices in the country after harsh weather hit crops in 2007, Agriculture Minister Dacian Ciolos said yesterday.“I’m optimistic with regard to 2008,” Ciolos told AFP in an interview, predicting the wheat crop would rise to 7.7 million tons this year.

Total cereal production was expected to amount to 3.5 tons per hectare, thanks to the favorable weather conditions, he said.Romania’s agricultural sector was hit by the worst drought in 50 years last year, when output plunged by half, weighing down the country’s overall economic growth. The wheat harvest barely reached three million tonnes in 2007.“In 2008, the agricultural sector will certainly add to growth,” the minister said.

In the first six months of 2008, Romania’s gross domestic product expanded by a record 8.6 percent.The robust performance is expected to lead to a “stabilization” in food prices and that, in turn, could lead to a slowdown in inflation, the minister said. Nevertheless, farmers themselves would not benefit as much as the wholesalers from the upturn, Ciolos suggested.“The Romanian market is not as well-organised as, say, the French market, and farmers frequently have to choose between selling on the black market or being content with rather modest prices,” he said.

In addition, farmers faced a number of difficult new challenges when Romania joined the EU in January 2007, including the abolition of import barriers for agricultural products, stricter EU guidelines and changes in subsidies. Bucharest is set to receive some 13 billion euros (19 billion dollars) in EU agricultural and rural development subsidies until 2013, but not much of the money will find its way to many of Romania’s 4.3 million farms because their holdings of land are too small.Ciolos called for changes in the tax system, “which currently disadvantages farmers,” as well as state investment.

The EU said in July that it was freezing 28 million euros in agricultural aid to Romania owing to “technical deficiencies” in the way the money was distributed. Ciolos said Romanian experts were currently putting the finishing touches to the system, in line with the EU Commission’s recommendations. “What’s certain is that Brussels has become very strict when it comes to administering the funds,” he said.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sterling Resources Ltd. commences drilling of the Ana-2 appraisal well in offshore Romania


Canada NewsWire via COMTEX News Network

("Sterling") (TSX-V:SLG) is pleased to report that drilling of the Ana-2 appraisal well in the Romanian Black Sea has commenced, and the well spudded on August 28, 2008. (Sterling 65 percent working interest). It is anticipated that the well will take 30 days to drill and a further 15 days should testing be completed. "This is an exciting appraisal well for Sterling in Offshore Romania," stated Stephen Birrell, Vice President (Romania) of Operations, "Following

our success in December 2007 with Ana-1 (previously referred to as Doina Sister), we return to drilling the Ana Gas Field to delineate the field with a 45 degree deviated appraisal well just under one kilometre northwest of the original Ana-1 discovery well. Success with this well will confirm our expectations for the field," continued Mr. Birrell.

Planning for this appraisal well started soon after the successful test of the Ana-1 well with the introduction to the Romanian Black Sea of two technologies utilized from operations in the United Kingdom Southern North Sea, Mud-Line Suspension technology (MLS) for suspending wells and drilling templates for pre-drilling wells prior to development. Both of these technologies prepare the way for the Ana wells to be used during the development of the field. Sterling intends to use the Ana-2 well for potential production, again preserving the well for future development using the MLS technology, and then eventually access both the Ana-1 and Ana-2 wells from the same platform.

"Since moving onto the Ana location we have been installing the drilling template which precisely spaces the wells and yesterday we successfully installed the drilling conductor through the template, permitting the potential future use of both wells," noted John Rapach, Vice President of Operations for Sterling. "Setting of the template in 69 metres of water was certainly a first for the Romanian offshore oil and gas industry. This operation required tremendous effort from our operations team in Romania to prepare the rig and then run to the sea bed and position the template. Sterling is particularly pleased to say that this successful operation was done both efficiently and without incident, which is a credit to the technical ingenuity of the entire team," stated Mr. Rapach.

Sterling Resources Ltd. is a Canadian-listed international oil and gas company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta with assets in the United Kingdom, Romania and France. The shares are listed and posted for trading on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol "SLG".

<<>>

Forward-Looking Statements

All statements included in this press release that address activities, events or developments that Sterling expects, believes or anticipates will or may occur in the future are forward-looking statements. In addition, statements relating to reserves or resources are deemed to be forward-looking statements as they involve the implied assessment, based on certain estimates and assumptions that the reserves and resources described can be profitably produced in the future.

These forward-looking statements involve numerous assumptions made by Sterling based on its experience, perception of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments and other factors it believes are appropriate in the circumstances. In addition, these statements involve substantial known and unknown risks and uncertainties that contribute to the possibility that the predictions, forecasts, projections and other-forward looking statements will prove inaccurate, certain of which are beyond Sterling's control, including: the impact of general economic conditions in the areas in which Sterling operates, civil unrest, industry conditions, changes in laws and regulations including the adoption of new environmental laws and regulations and changes in how they are interpreted and enforced, increased competition, the lack of availability of qualified personnel or management, fluctuations in commodity prices, foreign exchange or interest rates, stock market volatility and obtaining required approvals of regulatory authorities. In addition there are risks and uncertainties associated with oil and gas operations. Readers should also carefully consider the matters discussed under the heading "Risk Factors" in the Company's Annual Information Form.

Undue reliance should not be placed on these forward-looking statements, as there can be no assurance that the plans, intentions or expectations upon which they are based will occur. Sterling's actual results, performance or achievements could differ materially from those expressed in, or implied by, these forward-looking statements. These statements speak only as of the date of the press release. Sterling does not intend and does not assume any obligation to update these forward-looking statements except as required by law.

SOURCE: Sterling Resources Ltd.

visit www.sterling-resources.com or contact: George Kesteven, Manager, Investor Relations, Phone: (403) 215-9265, Fax: (403) 215-9279, george@sterling-resources.com; Stewart G. Gibson, Chief Executive Officer, Phone: 44-133082-6717, Mobile: 44-7768-042219, stewart@sterling-resources.co.uk

Deutsche Bahn in talks to buy Romania’s Romtrans

29. August 2008. | 11:31 06:13

ACG News Agency

Romanian transport company Romtrans was privatized in 1994, is headquartered in the capital city, Bucharest, and is owned by employees.

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG, one of Europe’s main railway operators, is in talks to buy Romanian transport company Romtrans, in a transaction estimated at EUR80 million- EUR100 million, Financial Times Deutschland reported Thursday, without specifying the sources.An official announcement is expected next week, the German daily reports.

Romanian transport company Romtrans was privatized in 1994, is headquartered in the capital city, Bucharest, and is owned by employees.

The holding-type company has nine branches in Bucharest and other major Romanian cities and employs 1,300 people.Romtrans also owns stakes in ten Romanian companies and seven foreign companies.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tourists from Romania Prefer Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey for the Holidays

BalkanTravellers.com

28 August 2008 | Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey are among the most popular destinations among Romanian tourists, national media reported today.

Greece tops the favoured destinations list, according to the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper, which cited data by Romania’s national tourist agency association, ANAT. Turkey, on the other hand, marks the biggest growth in interest by tour agencies, while Bulgaria – despite enjoying great popularity, is undergoing a slow but sure decline in interest.

In addition, the number of Romanian tourists who spend their holidays abroad increased by 25 per cent compared to 2007,according to the published data.

“This is the last year that marks a large growth in the tourists in the sector – gradually the market will even out and the number of tourists will not undergo great variations,” Traian Bădulescu, spokesperson of ANAT, told media.

Scientology Volunteers in Romania

The America Chronicle
Linda Wieland

The Scientology Volunteer Minister Eastern European Goodwill Tour began a new phase of operation with a grand opening in the city of Cluj Napoca in Romania. With their bright yellow tent set up in Mihai Viteazul Square, they are reaching out to the people of the region with 19 courses to help improve conditions in their lives.

For 3 years the tour has been holding large events in coordination with local and national authorities, the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations throughout Eastern Europe. They visited Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia and Poland before arriving in Romania.

"The purpose of our tour is to introduce the Scientology Volunteer Minister Program to every country in Eastern Europe where it is not yet known, because it presents solutions to so many of the problems people face today," stated Diana Stahl, Public Relations Director of the Volunteer Ministers Program in Eastern Europe.

Over 15,000 Romanians learned about the Scientology Volunteer Minister program when they set up their tent in Bucharest, Craiova, Constanta and Iasi. "I could describe the Volunteer Minister program this way," said a social worker from Caritas, Iasi. "They make the world a better place to live! They helped me know myself better and have more courage to help others!"

The Scientology Volunteer Ministers Eastern European Goodwill Tour is part of an international program that not only helps people resolve their own problems but encourages them to reach out and help others get involved in volunteer work such as disaster response.

It is a social program of the Churches of Scientology and over the last 30 years has grown to a worldwide movement with international impact.

The Scientology Volunteer Minister Program today involves over 100,000 volunteers from more than 114 countries spanning any national, ethnic, social and religious background.

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the movement, described the Scientology Volunteer Minister in these terms: "Of course, if one is going to find fault with something, it implies that he wishes to do something about it and would if he could. If one does not like the crime, cruelty, injustice and violence of this society, he can do something about it. He can become a Volunteer Minister and help civilize it, bring it conscience and kindness and love and freedom from travail by instilling into it trust, decency, honesty and tolerance".

For further information, contact:

Diana Stahl

Director of Public Relations

European Scientology Volunteer Minister Goodwill Tour

tel: +40 720 518 115

e-mail: diana.stahl@eugoodwilltour.com

web-site: www.volunteerministers.org

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Romania: Mounting Pressure

Oxford Business Group Latest Briefing

As real estate sectors in various parts of Western-Europe are suffering from the sub-prime aftermath, hopes have been high for the resilience of the housing boom in Romania, among other Eastern European countries. However, various parts of the market are facing hard times.

With sales slowing down or coming to a full stop for many of the ongoing developments in the country, particularly in and around Bucharest, industry insiders are foreseeing a slowdown in the residential real estate market for the coming 12 to 24 months.

"Due to rising prices and compressed profit margins, speculative investors, representing 40% of total demand up until the end of 2007, have disappeared from the market. The remaining 60%, consisting of end-users, are facing difficulties in obtaining mortgages due to tighter rules following the global credit crunch," Radu Lucianu, managing partner at CBRE-Eurisko, one of the country's leading real-estate consultancies, told OBG.

Despite his belief that the global financial crisis has only marginally affected the Romanian financial system, clients have been hard hit by more rigid requirements such as advance payments, increased collateral and higher interest rates.

In some cases, this has led to cancellations of residential projects. Both Energoconstructia, one of Romania's leading construction companies, and Sonae Sierra, a Portuguese developer that has teamed up with with Irish investor Caelum Development, have decided to cancel residential projects due to the pessimistic outlook. A similar trend, though more measured, can de identified in the retail segment. Rising land and development prices, fierce competitiveness and a risk-averse financing climate, are forcing some developers to either opt for smaller size projects or abandon the project completely.

"Many of the projects that can be executed according to initial plans are likely to face a delay in completion as the funding will come more gradually than initially expected," Razvan Gheorghe, managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Activ Consulting, the Romanian subsidiary of global consultant Cushman & Wakefield, told OBG.

These concerns were echoed in a report recently published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers stating that "the Romanian retail segment is in need of a correction and should be avoided by investors." The report specifically refers to "developments in secondary locations with little infrastructure and highway access."

As the wave of retail development is reaching medium and smaller-sized towns, industry insiders are waiting to see the validity of the report's predictions. On the other hand, as Gheorghe stated, "the country has a lot of catching up to do in terms of retail space per capita ratio (measured in Gross Leasable Area per 1000 inhabitants), which is only 20.9% of the EU-27 average. Current projects are merely catering to demand."

Having said that, Romania is one of the biggest domestic markets in Eastern Europe and with disposable incomes rapidly increasing, the outlook for development of retail space looks fundamentally positive.

Investment in the Romanian commercial property segment in the second quarter of the year grew by 18.6% year-on-year to 696m euros, compared to 119m euros in the first quarter. These figures clearly show that Romania is outperforming neighbouring countries such as Hungary, which registered investments of 15m euros in the second quarter, the Czech Republic (141m euros) and Bulgaria (251m euros). In fact, Romania is ranked among the only four European countries - together with Russia, Belgium and Denmark - that have experienced growth during this period.

Despite these impressive achievements, Costel Florea, head of Capital Markets, Cushman & Wakefield Activ Consulting, stated in a recent industry report that this growth is attributable to deals that have been initiated last year and that this year's investment funds are taking a bearish attitude. This is partly due to the increased cost of financing, which reduces profit margins and, resulting turn, investors' interest. Florea forecast that sales prices for commercial properties will be lower than in 2007. The results of this downturn are expected to be visible in third quarter-results, which are expected to be weak, according to the report. Meanwhile, industry analysts expect transactions to pick up again in this year's last three months.

On the other hand, logistics and warehousing are holding up well. In a separate report by Cushman & Wakefield, Romania is ranked 13th among Europe's 25 leading performing countries in this segment of the market. Romania proves to be highly competitive in this regard, mainly due to the low rents in the industrial/logistic sector (48 euros per sq metre per year) and the low costs of the labour force. The growing volume of freight transiting through the port of Constanta

Despite a somewhat gloomy outlook for some segments of the country's real estate market, analysts expect a long-term sophistication of both the industry quality levels and the regulatory framework, eventually leading to a stronger, more mature market. Underlying this is the ever-pressing need for infrastructure development, which is hoped to take off sooner rather than later.
- it has increased by 277% in the past three years - is an important driver of this development.

Romania: Pensions in Third Gear

Oxford Business Group Latest Briefing

For players in the Romanian insurance sector, this year's first six months have been characterised by a fierce battle for market share in the arena of private pensions. The main scuffle took place in attracting clients for the mandatory pensions - the so-called second pillar system -and is now moving into the offerings of voluntary "third pillar" pension plans.

The sales window for second pillar subscriptions lasted from September 2007 until mid-January. A total of over 4.1m Romanian workers aged between 18 and 35 either registered or were assigned to one of 18 licensed pension funds. The deadline for first contributions was May 20. Four players threw in the towel before the deadline, citing marginal subscription rates, leaving only 14 players in the market after various adjustments due to a high number of void contracts - 21.5% of all agreements signed - as well aas delays in corporate contributions. Here is the ranking of the top five players in terms of client numbers:

ING's Fond de Pensii - the Romanian arm of the financial conglomerate ING - led the pack with 33.16%, followed by the German-Romanian partnership Allianz-Tiriac Asigurari with 25.63%. In third place came domestic player Generali Fond de Pensii with 9.40%, closely followed by the local arm of British-based insurance multinational Aviva (Aviva Fond de Pensii) with 7.37%. The fifth spot was taken up by Eureko Group's domestic arm, Interamerican Romania, capturing 6.36%. The rest of the market is divided between nine more players, of which four hold market shares under 1%. Industry insiders expect these, and possibly a fifth player holding 1.53%, will be taken over by the end of the year.

Frans van der Ent, CEO of Interamerican Romania, told OBG, "with the main five players owning over 80% of the market and low transfers expected due to the nature of pensions and procedure, the second pillar market is now focused on consolidation." Van der Ent estimates a growth rate of 120,000 to 150,000 participants per year, but as he said, "the challenge is to find these people and then to justify the acquisition cost due to new commission charged by sales agents and brokers."

For many players, the focus has now shifted to third pillar products. Companies who have been predominantly looking at securing ground in the second pillar sector are now looking to expand their base into voluntary pension plans. Among the contenders are dominant pension companies ING, Allianz-Tiriac and Aviva, who launched products as early as last year and are now boosting their sales and broker networks to secure market share. In mid-July, Interamerican applied to license two optional pension schemes with intentions to enter the market within a matter of weeks.

Industry insiders foresee good prospects for various other banks, such as Romanian Commercial Bank (BCR) and French-controlled Romanian bank BRD, who are also looking to get a share of the third pillar market. It is thought the banks are in a good position to cut acquisition costs as they can avoid pricey broker fees by directly targeting the clients who fit third pillar profile: young, wealthy individuals who can afford to put away extra money. Furthermore, as the insiders claim, they have the relationships in place, which gives them a head start to win customers.

As the third pillar market is not campaign-based, the fight for market share will not be as heated as for the second pillar. Van der Ent estimates that this market will take four to five years to mature, giving players time to develop a strategy for entering the market. Furthermore the potential client base is a lot lower. Industry experts anticipate a total of 1.5m potential participants, one third of the second pillar market.

Currently, there are just below 100,000 contracts signed in the third pillar market, allowing room for huge growth. This is particularly the case in the corporate sector, as employers will quickly see the value in providing competitive compensation plans in Romania's undersupplied labour market.

The next challenge is the destination of contributions that already exist. Market analysts have long predicted that pension funds will have problems realising the projected returns on premiums as the capital market offers few investment options. Other, more optimistic, analysts see the capital generated by pensions as a trigger for development of capital investments. The national bank of Romania recently told local media that "private pension funds will change the financial landscape of Romania, and accelerate the development of the equity and bond markets."

Many are waiting for the government to take a leading role by issuing government stocks and bonds. So far there has been plenty of talk from the ministry of economy and finance, among others, of a listing of 26 state-shares expected by August 4, but for now nothing has materialised. While optimists remain hopeful of listings in the wake of upcoming general elections, third pillar clients and administrators are keeping their fingers crossed.

Europe's largest wind farm project to be in Romania

AFP

Wednesday 27 August 2008 Czech electricity giant CEZ announced a 1.1 billion euro investment to establish Europe's largest land-based wind farm, capable of producing 600 megawatts, in Romania, after having bought two national wind energy projects.

Czech state-controlled energy giant CEZ said Wednesday it had sealed a deal to buy two Romanian wind energy projects which, when completed, will be the biggest land-based wind farm in Europe.

CEZ, the largest power producer in central Europe, said it bought the twin projects, based near the Black Sea city of Constanza, from international wind power development company Continental Wind Partners LLC.

No financial details of the transaction were disclosed.

The Czech power giant, which is around two-thirds owned by the state, said its eventual 1.1 billion euro (1.6 billion dollar) investment in the projects will result in the largest onshore wind farm in Europe with a generation capacity of 600 megawatts.

Construction of the wind farms should start next month and they should be producing power by the end of 2010, CEZ said. Continental Wind will continue to supervise the project's construction, it added.

CEZ which has been expanding in central Europe in the past years has been active in Romania since 2005 when it gained a majority stake in distributing company Electrica Oltenia.

The deal means the Czech company is a long way along the road to achieving its target of having 1,000 megawatts of wind power production capacity across Europe by 2020. "It is a major step," said spokeswoman Eva Novakova.

CEZ currently has no wind power plants in its home country but around 80 projects in the pipeline which have won the necessary planning permission, she added. It wants around half of its future wind power expansion to take place in the Czech Republic.

The cash rich company is heavily reliant on ageing coal and nuclear power plants for more of its electricty production with coal-fired plants accounting for 56 percent and nuclear around 40 percent of electricity produced last year.

But it is keen to change that, in the light of EU moves to boost the proportion of power produced from renewables sources and slash that from burning fossil fuels in an attempt to curb climate change.

"We have reassessed our production plans in the light of the EU climate energy package," Novakova said.

CEZ already figures among Europe's top 10 electricity companies in terms of production capacity and turnover. It has rapidly expanded in recent years across central and southeastern Europe, buying up power plants and distribution companies with the avowed aim of becoming the biggest player in the region. It also wants to expand into Russia.

The group made a profit of 42.8 billion koruna (2.6 billion dollars, 1.7 billion euros) in 2007.

Romania to Up Pensions from November 1

BalkanInsight.com

27 August 2008
Bucharest _ The Romanian government is to raise state pensions by almost 20 percent from November 1, in a move seen by most analysts as a way for drawing votes ahead of parliamentary elections.

The decision follows plans by Romania's centrist government last year to nearly double pensions between 2008 and 2009 which had sparked criticism from rating agencies and some economists because of their potential impact on Romania's sizzling economy.

“The pension hike will have a significant impact on inflation. Furthermore, the government decision is a way for attracting the electoral interest from retired people, ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of November," says economic analyst Radu Soviani.

Average monthly pensions are just over €100 now, roughly one-third of Romanians' average net wages.

Romania: Moscow's act regarding South Ossetia, Abhazia lacks legal ground

Russia's recognition of the independence of Abhazia and South Ossetia represent a regrettable and legally ungrounded unilateral act, the Romanian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

In a news release, the ministry reiterates the importance, for the regional stability and security, to observe the fundamental principles of the international law.

It also said that Romania, as EU and NATO member, will continue to activate within the bodies as well as on a bilateral level, together with other countries in the region, to regulate the situation in Georgia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced on Tuesday that Russia recognized the independence of the two separatist territories in Georgia, Abhazia and South Ossetia, adding that he had already signed two decrees in this respect.

He also called on other states to recognize the independence of the Georgian separatist republics.

Moscow's standing representative with NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said that the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abhazia proves that Russia does not plan to annex the two territories.

Source:Xinhua

Romania votes to investigate senators

By Thomas Escritt in Bucharest

Published: August 27 2008 14:57 | Last updated: August 27 2008 14:57

Romania’s senate has voted for the first time to investigate politicians after a sharp rebuke from the European Union on its failure to tackle corruption since joining the bloc last year.

The country’s upper house has requested an investigation into the Conservative senator and former energy minister Codrut Seres over alleged links to organised crime, while Paul Pacuraru, the labour minister and a senator for the governing Liberal party, is to be investigated by the country’s anti-corruption directorate (DNA) over allegations of bribe-taking.

Under the country’s constitution, serving or former ministers who are also parliamentary deputies can only be investigated for abuse of office at the request of the institution to which they belong. In 2006, parliament refused to grant prosecutors permission to search the house of Adrian Nastase, the former prime minister, in relation to corruption allegations.

Though getting the nod to investigate Mr Pacuraru is a coup for the DNA, the one institution the European Commission singled out for praise in its monitoring report on Romania’s judicial reform process, it comes shortly after the justice minister’s decision to sack Daniel Morar, the agency’s chief prosecutor.

Daniel Morar remains in office until a successor has been confirmed - potentially a long-drawn out process, since the country’s president has a veto.

Laura Stefan, an anti-corruption specialist at the Romanian Academic Society, a think-tank, said: ”It’s a good thing that they’ve approved the investigations, of course, but what really matters is the head of the DNA. It won’t help if the next DNA chief prosecutor kills all the files.”

Addressing the senate before the vote to approve his investigation, Mr Pacuraru questioned whether the allegations against him had been made in good faith. In 38 years of working life, not one allegation had been made against him, he said, but 11 files were opened against him the moment he was appointed a minister.

Romania launches online gay TV

BUCHAREST (AFP) - Homosexuals in Romania are to get their own online TV channel, dedicated to "the life and problems of the gay community," starting October 1, its creators said Monday.

The channel, dubbed Angelicuss TV, will be the first of its kind in this majority Orthodox country, where homosexuality was only decriminalised in 2001. Launched in the northwestern town of Cluj by the anti-discrimination group Be An Angel, the channel will only be broadcast on the Internet. But the varied programme will include "gay music, news, entertainment and films," the channel announced on its website. "(It) will be a means of communication in the gay community as well as with the Romanian public as a whole," said "Be An Angel" director Lucian Dunareanu. And the channel will not show any pornographic or indecent material, its creators insisted.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Giant polenta is Moldovan study in patience

BUCHAREST (Reuters Life!) - Moldovan artist Ghenadie Popescu hauled a giant corn meal sculpture across a stretch of Moldova and Romania in order to "explore the idea of patience."

The pleasing yellowy corn meal, mixed with glue and perched on a wooden and metal structure, resembled a polenta-like, national Romanian dish called 'mamaliga'.

"People in this region have overcome many difficulties, poverty ... This polenta symbolizes patience," Popescu told Reuters this week.

The mamaliga, two meters (yards) in diameter and weighing some 120 kg (265 lb), was also part of a local art exhibition in the eastern Romanian village of Cucuteni, entitled "Rainbow."

The show also included red bottles, orange animals made of clay, green phone booths, wooden figurines painted in blue and purple video images.

Romania is the second-poorest country in the European Union and its economy amounts to about a third of the EU average.

Trekking the 200 km (124 miles) through impoverished villages on the EU's eastern edge, Popescu met a mixed welcome.

"Half of the people that passed me honked their horns, laughed or swore at me. Many threw garbage from their cars. But some gave me beers to drink and I was happy, because beer is also yellow."

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Paul Casciato)

Romanian parliament stops graft probe against ex-PM

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's parliament rejected a request from prosecutors to investigate corruption allegations against former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on Wednesday, in a case seen as a test of the country's justice system reforms.

The probe is one of several bribery investigations prosecutors want to conduct against Nastase, 58, who led an ex-communist government between 2000 and 2004.

In this case, they sought to find out how he acquired property in central Bucharest during his mandate.

However, deputies voted 150 to 120 to block prosecutors' request, which needed parliamentary approval under Romanian law.

Nastase denies any wrongdoing and has accused prosecutors of bias and political manipulation.

"This is the parliament's will, deputies labeled this case as a political one and they did not want to play the game of those who orchestrated it," said Ilie Sarbu, vice-president of Nastase's opposition Social Democrat Party (PSD).

The parliamentary vote comes less than a month after the European Union said Romania was dragging its feet on fighting corruption, especially among senior officials.

The European Commission, which monitors Romania's progress in reforming the judiciary and curbing abuse since it joined the EU in 2007, said in July the new member faced political and judicial obstruction of the fight against graft.

Along with the investigation against Nastase, parliament also rejected a request to probe bribery allegations against Miron Mitrea, transport minister in Nastase's government.

Prosecutors have already asked parliament for approval in two other cases against Nastase.

Further delays could cost Romania a chunk of its aid from the EU, which has cut subsidies to Bulgaria in July because of Sofia's failure to curb organized crime and fraud.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak)

Two consortiums put in bids to rehabilitate road to Romania

SofiaEcho.com
Wed 13 Aug 2008 - Elitsa Grancharova

Two consortiums, comprising connected companies, are candidates for the reconstruction of the 47km road from Kavarna to Dourankoulak, on the northern Black Sea coast, which leads to one of Bulgaria's border checkpoints with Romania. The bids were opened on August 12 at the office of the National Road Infrastructure Agency (NRIA).

The two bidders are the Dourankoulak consortium, whose leading partner is Hidrostroy AD, and Kavarna association, whose leading partner is Putno Stroitelstvo AD (Road Construction), mediapool.bg reported.

Kavarna consortium offered the lower price of 14.9 million euro. The second company in the consortium, Putishta i Mostove (Roads and Brigdes), is owned by Hidrostroy, the leading firm in the competing Dourankoulak consortium, which offered a price of 15.5 million euro, mediapool.bg said.

Hidrostroy has won public tenders from NRIA in its previous incarnations and one of its owners is Veliko Zhelev, the former head of the National Road Infrastructure Fund (now restructured into NRIA). Zhelev was replaced by Vesselin Georgiev, who quit earlier this year, and both individuals have beet repeatedly accused in Bulgarian-language media of involvement in corruption rows and conflicts of interest.

The suspicions of malfeasances and irregularities concerning public tenders have prompted the European Commission to freeze the funds allocated to road construction in Bulgaria while such allegations are investigated.

Offers for the Dourankoulak-Kavarna highway were opened only two days after Dimitur Ivanov was appointed executive director of NRIA. Ivanov was previously executive director of construction company Ingstroy Sofia.

The re-construction of the road to the north-eastern border check point with Romania is part of Transit Roads 5, an ongoing rehabilitation project that has gone on for the last 17 years. The project includes 1262km of roads, whose rehabilitation costs are estimated at a total of 500 million euro. A loan from the European Investment Bank finances 75 per cent of the costs, while the state budget covers the remainder. For some roads, which are not parts of the Transeuropean Transport Network and its corridors passing through Bulgaria, the financing split is 50-50.

Romania’s former ambassador to Georgia: “Russia should not impede the operation of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania transit energy corridor”

Baku. Nijat Mustafayev – APA-ECONOMICS. Russia should not impede the operation of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania transit energy corridor, said Constantin Girbea, executive director of Black Sea University Foundation (Romania), Romania’s former ambassador to Georgia, APA-ECONOMICS reports.

“Russia’s activity should not be directed against Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, as well as Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) transport corridors, because all these corridors are of great importance for Europe,” he said.

Constantin Girbea underlined that Romania and European Union supported stability in the South Caucasus.
“Energy supply of Europe depends on ensuring peace and stability in the South Caucasus”, he said.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Romania Begins To Evacuate Citizens From Georgia Amid Clashes

BUCHAREST (AFP)--Romania has begun to evacuate its citizens from Georgia " following a deterioration of the security" inside the country, the Romanian foreign ministry said early Tuesday.

"The operation has already begun and a first transport has left towards Armenia," ministry spokesman Cosmin Boiangiu said on Ralitatea TV, without saying how many people had been evacuated.

About 50 Romanians are believed to be in Georgia, and not all want to leave, he added.

The ministry warned Romanians Monday not to travel to Georgia, particularly South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Bulgaria's Trade with Romania Booming

Sofia News Agency

The bilateral trade between Bulgaria and Romania has reached a record high, the Standart Daily newspaper points out Tuesday citing recently released data of the National Statistical Institute.

In the first five months of 2008 Bulgaria's exports to Romania increased by 70% compared to the same period of 2007 to reach BGN 718 M.

At the same time, however, Romania exported to Bulgaria goods for BGN 1,149 B, which is a growth of almost 80% compared to January-May 2007.

According to Standart, the Bulgaria's negative balance of BGN 431 M with Romania is due to the expansion of the Romanian petrol industry, cigarettes, and car manufacturing on the Bulgarian market.

The Rompetrol oil company has opened dozens of gas station in Bulgaria, and the Romania brand of cigarettes "Viceroy", and cars "Dacia" are said to be becoming more popular in the country.

Romania to decide whether to prosecutor former PM

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's president met with top politicians on Tuesday to discuss a key vote on whether to prosecute a former prime minister on corruption charges — a decision that could affect the country's access to European Union funding.

Parliament is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to strip former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who now works as a legislator, of his immunity from prosecution and to try him in two corruption cases. A "yes" vote would make Nastase the most senior politician since Romania's 1989 anti-communist revolt to be prosecuted on corruption charges.

Nastase has said the charges are politically motivated.

Romania is under pressure from the European Union to tackle high-level corruption and could lose EU funds.

Its neighbor Bulgaria, which also joined the EU in 2007, saw the bloc freeze euro500 million (US$800 million) in aid as a penalty for corruption and organized crime.

In July, an EU report criticized Romania for failing to punish high-level figures for alleged acts of corruption. But the EU did not penalize Romania financially.

State prosecutors want to try Nastase on charges that he bribed an anti-money laundering official in 2000, and that he received bribes worth €1.3 million (US$2.03 million) while serving as prime minister from 2000 to 2004.

On Tuesday, President Traian Basescu discussed the Natase case and the EU report on corruption with leaders of the political parties in Parliament.

After the meeting, most politicians declined to say how they would vote Wednesday. But one political leader urged Parliament to prosecute Nastase.

"Parliament should no longer make a shield around those legislators who are being investigated by the justice system," said Emil Boc, who heads the Democratic Liberal party.

Parliament first tried to vote in June on whether to prosecute Nastase, but too few lawmakers showed up at that session.

In July, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu reacted to the EU report by saying the country is "determined to continue zero tolerance to those who use public office to get rich."

In an attempt to step up the anti-corruption fight, Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu on Monday named a prosecutor who specializes in criminal cases as the nation's new top anti-corruption prosecutor. Monica Stefanescu will replace Daniel Morar, whose mandate expires this month. Stefanescu, 47, has been a criminal prosecutor since 1990.

Predoiu said he hoped the EU's next report would note Romania's progress in the fight against corruption.

Romania plans to float Romtelecom stake in 2009

BUCHAREST, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Romania plans to float next year a minority stake in leading landline telephone operator Romtelecom, majority owned by Greece's OTE (OTEr.AT: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the government said on Tuesday.

The float was scheduled for 2006 but has been repeatedly delayed after recent selloffs had come under the spotlight on suspicion of commercial espionage and due to unfavourable market conditions.

Telecoms Minister Karoly Borbely said earlier this year the float of at least 10 percent in Romtelecom was due by the end of 2008.

"The government's intention to privatise Romtelecom does exist. We did not have a proper climate for such an initiative in the context of a bad financial situation worldwide," Borbely said in a statement.

He said signing of a consultancy contract to advise on the sale will be done within one and half month, to allow for the listing next year.

The government holds a 46 percent stake in the company. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by David Holmes)

AP: Romania gets new top anti-corruption prosecutor

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's justice minister has named a prosecutor who specializes in criminal cases as the country's new top anti-corruption prosecutor.

Catalin Predoiu says he hopes Monica Stefanescu will continue efforts to fight corruption. Stefanescu has worked as a criminal prosecutor since 1990. She is 47 and is a prosecutor at Romania's Supreme Court of Justice.

Predoiu said Monday that he hoped the European Union would note progress in the fight against corruption in its next report, and that in 2009 Romania would no longer be monitored by the bloc.

Stefanescu replaces Daniel Morar, whose three-year mandate expires this month.

In a July report, the EU warned Romania to speed up reforms and do more to fight corruption.

Romanian govt sacks anti-corruption prosecutor

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's justice minister removed chief anti-corruption prosecutor Daniel Morar from office on Monday, a dismissal observers said could weaken the country's efforts to fight graft among top politicians.

Morar has won praise from the European Commission for trying to investigate graft allegations against former government ministers and other senior officials, but some local politicians have accused him of bias.

Last month, the European Commission accused Romania in a monitoring report of dragging its feet in fighting abuse, especially at senior levels. In particular, it blamed parliament for blocking investigations launched by prosecutors.

But politicians from the ruling Liberal party and some opposition deputies have said prosecutors' anti-corruption efforts were politically motivated and called for Morar's removal. His three-year appointment expires this week.

"This is very bad news for Romania. It sends a clear message that whoever starts (investigating) big files will end up like this," said Laura Stefan from the Romanian Academic Society, a think tank.

Morar launched investigations against several ex-ministers, including former prime minister Adrian Nastase, and other politicians.

But the Constitutional Court ruled the probes must be approved by parliament, and the cases were sent back to the prosecutors.

Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu said he planned to replace Morar with another prosecutor, Monica Serbanescu, in a bid to make prosecutions more credible and more effective. Serbanescu's appointment needs presidential approval.

"We are interested in having an institution capable of meeting its targets," Predoiu told a news conference.

He also offered to appoint Morar as a judicial reform representative for the government in Brussels or to make him deputy chief anti-corruption prosecutor.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Radu Marinas; editing by Tim Pearce)

INTERVIEW-Romania to start talks to buy fighting jets by Nov

United States - By Marius Zaharia

BUCHAREST, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The Romanian government plans to approve the acquisition of 48 fighter jets worth at least 4 billion euros ($6 billion) by November, Defence Minister Teodor Melescanu told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The second-poorest European Union member joined NATO in 2004 and has been a staunch ally of Washington's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but its Soviet-made MiG-21s are not compatible with NATO missions and need to be replaced.

Romania is part of NATO's Strategic Airlift Capability fleet and agreed to purchase new aircraft to meet its requirements.

"We have a green light from almost all the concerning institutions to buy them, and only need one more approval from the finance ministry which still has some questions about the costs," Melescanu said.

"I definitely expect the government's decision by November. Then we will start talks with the sellers."

Melescanu said five jets meet Romania's defence needs: F-16 of Lockheed Martin Corp (nyse: LMT - news - people ), F-18 of Boeing (nyse: BA - news - people ) Co, Rafale of France's Dassault, Grippen of SAAB and Eurofighter of EADS.

He said the government will either invite companies to take part in a tender or start direct negotiations with one of them.

Melescanu said the initial estimation of the costs is about 4 billion euros, but depending on the maturity of the loans, the timing of the decision and the financing conditions, costs may rise by up to 50 percent.

"It will be a multi-year financing, extra-budgetary, through loans from banks and other institutions," Melescanu said. "The limit is set to 2.38 percent of the gross domestic product for every year of the financing."

Melescanu said the jets could be new, second-hand, or a mix of those. They will be delivered in the 2010-2012 period, when the fleet of 80 MiG-21s will be gradually scrapped.

The minister also said it plans to acquire high-altitude rockets, four corvettes and four ships able to detect mines, and several armed transporters for land troops, but he did not offer more details. (Editing by Mary Gabriel)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Romania's BRD H1 net profit up 23 pct

BUCHAREST, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Romania's second largest bank BRD, controlled by France's Societe Generale (SOGN.PA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), reported a 23 percent increase in first-half net profit on Monday, below market expectations.

BRD posted a net profit of 515 million lei ($224 million), versus an average expectation of 563 million lei in a Reuters poll. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Louise Ireland)

ulgaria and Romania to sign declaration for collaboration in judiciary area

11 August 2008 | 08:12 | FOCUS News Agency

Varna. Bulgarian Minister of Justice Miglena Tacheva and the federal German Minister of Justice Brigitte Zupris will sign a declaration for collaboration between the two countries.

The declaration has renewed and supplements the engagements signed by the two ministers in August 5 19998. The activities, which had been made in this period, under the encouragement of the agreement in judiciary, law decrees area and the institutions in judicial are had been reported.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Western investors discover Romania's underused rice paddies

Thursday, August 7, 2008

VLADENI, Romania: Romania's Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu loved the Italian specialty risotto, but he probably would have hated to see Romania's rice farms being taken over by Italian and other Western companies.

As the world price of rice has risen - tripling this year and leading to scarcity worries and export curbs by big producers in Asia - European farmers have begun to expand eastward.

In particular, they are buying up rice paddies in Romania, many of which were abandoned after the overthrow of Ceausescu and the end of Communism in Romania in 1989. This gives Romania, an impoverished Balkan state with water-rich lowlands, a hot climate and rich soil, the chance to become a top European rice producer in coming years.

"Western expertise gives rice a new future in Romania," said Ion Dragusin, 63, who headed rice farming in Vladeni under Ceausescu.

Rice has never been a popular food in Romania, where wheat and corn are major crops. But Ceausescu was known to like risotto, and, according to a cook who prepared food for him at a hunting lodge in the Carpathian Mountains, he often enjoyed a bowl of rice pudding.

In the 1970s, following the example of China and North Korea, Ceausescu forced thousands of newly landless peasants and convicts to work vast paddies around the village of Vladeni in eastern Romania, part of a grand plan to make Romania self-sufficient.

Now, the rice days are returning.

"Romania has a great potential," said Jean-Pierre Brun, president of the London Rice Brokers Association. "You need flat land, an easy source of water, which is the Danube, and warm weather. With all these available, Romania has very good conditions to produce rice."

Rice also has potential, on a smaller scale, in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Hungary, Brun said.

The Danube River has 20 times the water reserves of the Po Basin, which supplies Italy's paddies. That gives Romania a competitive advantage over Italy, the top European rice producer, and No.2 Spain.

"We will produce at lower costs," Angelo Dario Scotti, chief executive of Riso Scotti, the first Western company to get a foothold in Romania.

Since 2003, Riso Scotti, which is based in Italy, has invested tens of millions of euros to buy 7,000 hectares, or 17,300 acres, of fragmented plots in Romania and to build a processing plant in Vladeni.

"We knew lots of abandoned land was available and the climate was perfect," said Ugo Perruca, a Riso Scotti executive. "We aim to stop buying at 10,000 hectares by next year but the rest will be grabbed by Italian, French and local investors. We are in the process of convincing farmers to come to Romania."

A handful of Italian and Spanish farmers have begun to exploit smaller acreage near the Danube port of Braila, in eastern Romania, and in western Romania. Their rice is processed at the Vladeni plant. Land prices have soared to €1,000, or $1,530, a hectare from €200 five years ago, but they are still six times lower than in Italy.

Most of the world's rice is grown and consumed in Asia. The European Union produces around 2.2 million tons of rice a year on 500,000 hectares of land, and imports an additional one million tons. Perruca said Romania would produce 40,000 tons of rice this year, and estimated Romania's rice-growing land at 40,000 to 50,000 hectares in the next five years.

With the planned doubling of capacity at the Vladeni plant in the next five years, Romania could become an exporter of more than 100,000 tons a year, cutting EU imports by 10 percent.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, Romania has 15 million hectares of arable land, of which around 3 million to 5 million are unused.

But the cost of modern farming methods and the fragmentation of ownership that occurred when nationalized land was privatized after the fall of communism means it will take time for Romanian farmers to embrace rice.

The ministry is encouraging small holders to consolidate production.

Riso Scotti spent up to €1,500 a hectare to improve the quality of land, rebuild and expand a vast network of canals and revive pumping equipment inherited from the Communist era.

Without cash, owners of tiny patches of muddy soil will struggle to irrigate their land and are eager to sell, Dragusin said. Modern rice cultivation, using specially designed harvesters, employs only a handful of workers compared with the thousands of peasants working in Ceausescu's rice fields.

"I remember seeding and harvesting by hand with the sickle," Dragusin said. "Walking barefoot through wet fields was very hard," he said. "Yields were large, but losses were huge. Those times are gone."

2.5 million-year-old mastodon unearthed in Romania

Friday, August 8, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: Miners in Romania have unearthed the skeleton of a 2.5 million-year-old mastodon, believed to be one of the best preserved in Europe, a local official said Friday.

They stumbled on the remains of the mammoth-like animal during excavations in June at a coal mine in the village of Racosul de Sus, around 100 miles (170 kilometers) northwest of Bucharest, according to Laszlo Demeter, a historian and local councilor.

"This is one of the most spectacular finds in Europe," paleontologist Vlad Codrea, who examined the skeleton, told The Associated Press. "For Romania it is unique."

The mastadon became extinct in Europe two to three million years ago. Codrea, of Babes Bolyai University in Cluj, said 90 percent of the skeleton's bones were intact, with damage to the skull and tusks.

He also said that he hoped the find would help paleontologists to form a better image of the animals and vegetation present in the area 2.5 million years ago.

"(This find) will open up an area of (paleontological) research in the area," said Alexandru Andresanu, a professor at the Bucharest Geology Faculty in a telephone interview.

"It is sensational. To discover a near complete skeleton (like this) is unique in Romania and a rarity in the world," said Marton Wentzel, a researcher of vertebrates at the Three Rivers Land museum in Oradea, western Romania. "It is important because it can give us complete information about the flora and fauna or the era."

The animal — 10 feet (3 meters) high and 23 feet (7 meters) long — was a forefather of today's elephants. It is related to the mammoth, but fed on leaves instead of grazing and had straight tusks, instead of curved ones. The reason it died out was probably due to climate change, said Codrea.

The skeleton will be fully dug out in two months' time, Demeter said. Research will be conducted on the bones and the skeleton will then be displayed in the nearby museum of Baraolt.

Environmentalist Protest Potential Investment Projects in Romania's Danube Delta

BalkanTravellers.com

8 August 2008 | Environmentalists protest proposed changes in the authorities responsible for the Danube Delta and warn of subsequent dangers to the unique ecological region, national media reported today.

The non-governmental association Save the Danube and the Delta opposes the Romanian environmental ministry’s intention to turn the Danube Delta beaches from the administration responsible for the area’s biosphere over to the local municipalities’ administration, according to the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper.

This turnover would strip the beaches along the Delta from their status as a state area of national importance and give a green light to the development of tourist sites, which would damage the region’s biodiversity, the organisation claimed.

“In a zone declared as a cultural heritage site of a national importance by UNESCO, in the region with the richest biodiversity of species in Europe, the interest of everyone, but mainly the state authorities, should be connected to the preservation of this place as much as possible from industrial activities of the kind that tourism projects could be,” Kostel Popa, the organisation’s director told the publication.

“The waters of the Danube, which flow into the Black Sea, form the largest and best preserved of Europe's deltas,” according to UNESCO’s official description of the area. “The Danube Delta hosts over 300 species of birds as well as 45 freshwater fish species in its numerous lakes and marshes.”

The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve was created in 1990 and it is the only one in the world to include the entire delta of a river. It has a surface of 580 000 hectares, or 2,5 per cent of Romania’s total surface.

Romania: Meeting of the State Secretary, Anton Niculescu, with a delegation of the House of Representatives from the United States Congress

www.isria.info

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary for bilateral affairs, Anton Niculescu had a meeting on August 4th, 2008 with a delegation of the House of Representatives from the United States Congress.

On this occasion, there were approached aspects related to the bilateral cooperation between Romania and the United States, in various fields, being stressed the security issue. The American Congressmen emphasized on the special level of the relations between the two states, at the same time they thanked Romania for its significant contribution to the fight against terrorism, by taking part in the theaters of operation in Afghanistan and Iraq. The State Secretary, Anton Niculescu expressed, on his turn, the appreciation Romania has for the decisive support granted by the U.S. to our country in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.

During the meeting there was reviewed the Romanian way of approach and regional perspectives, particularly with respect to the extended area of the Black Sea. Thus it was once again brought to attention the support Romania grants for the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations to the Western Balkans states, Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, being asked also the support of the U.S. for the implementation of various projects initiated by Romania in the Black Sea region, including those related to the energy field.

The Romanian MFA State Secretary requested also the support of the American Congressmen for visa waiver for the Romanian citizens that travel in the U.S., as well as sending a message of encouragement to the American businessmen that wish to invest in Romania.

Joe Wilson – member of the Republican Party, representative of the South Carolina, Loretta Sanchez – member of the Democratic Party, representative of California, and Madeleine Bordallo – member of the Democratic Party, delegate of Territory of Guam, are in our country for assessing, on the spot, the concept of resizing and reallocation of the American armed forces in Europe. The three Congressmen are also members of the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services.

The visit in Romania included a meeting with the Ministry of Defense and a trip to the military base at Mihail Kogalniceanu.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Alleged smugglers of ancient artifacts to be tried

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Ten people will be tried for allegedly smuggling 2,000-year-old gold bracelets and other artifacts out of Romania and selling them abroad, prosecutors said Thursday.

The artifacts — ancient jewelry and coins — were stolen between 1996 and 2005 from Sarmizegetusa Regia, a government-controlled, UNESCO-recognized archaeological site in northwestern Romania, and sold on the international black market, the prosecutors said. Some items were later found in the United States and Switzerland, and brought back home.

The prosecutors' 157-page statement said the 10 defendants have been charged with illegally digging at a historical site, concealing stolen goods and stealing items of national heritage.

The defendants include a Serb, a Briton and a Frenchman, the statement said. The trial is scheduled to begin in November.

The most valuable objects stolen were 15 spiral-shaped gold bracelets made by the Dacians, the forefathers of Romanians. Nine have been recovered, worth at least euro3 million (US$4.64 million), the statement said.

The prosecutors said the leaders of the ring were Horia Camil Radu, who holds dual Romanian and British citizenship, and Serbian Ilic Ljubisa.

Radu, who moved to Britain to escape the investigation, and Ljubisa, who belongs to a trafficking network based in Zurich, will be tried in absentia, the statement said.

The dual French-Romanian defendant was identified as Ovidiu Laszlo Olah, 37.

More than 30 other people are still being investigated.

This will be the second trial of people accused of smuggling Dacian artifacts. The first, which began in 2005, is still under way.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Romania’s Black Sea Resort Mamaia Makes 300 Million Euro per Tourist Season

BalkanTravellers.com

7 August 2008 | The income of the most popular Black Sea resort in Romania, Mamaia, reaches 300 million euro per tourist season, national media reported today.

The revenue only from tourists who buy tickets through tourist agencies amounts to 250 million euro, the Ziarul Financiar newspaper reported. Weekend visitors to the resort contribute an additional income.

Out of the total 1.4 million Romanians who chose to visit Romania’s Black Sea coast this year, data by the National Statistical Institute, NSI, showed that 35 per cent, or around 500,000 people, picked the Mamaia resort.

Mamaia, located on Romania’s southern Black Sea coast, immediately north-east of the city of Constanţa, is the country’s biggest resort. It houses most of the five-star hotels and the most famous clubs along its seashore.

Spending five to six nights in one of Mamaia’s three to four-star hotels costs between 250 and 300 euro per person, the NSI data showed, and on average tourists spend between 400 and 500 euro each for the same period spent in the resort.

Romania Hopes For Iraq Troop Withdrawal In 1-2 Years-Minister

BUCHAREST (AFP)--Romania hopes to pull its troops out of Iraq "in one or two years," Defense Minister Teodor Melescanu said Thursday.

The withdrawal would follow negotiations with the multinational coalition headed by the U.S. and the authorities in Baghdad, he added.

"We hope that negotiations on a reduction of our military presence in Iraq will begin more quickly," Melescanu told journalists at a ceremony to mark the return of a Romanian battalion from Afghanistan.

"The prospects are very good and I think the process can start as the Iraqi army and security forces take over the tasks currently carried out by the coalition forces."

The minister underlined that Bucharest would not take any unilateral decision with regard to withdrawing its troops from Iraq, noting that "the allies are counting on the presence" of Romanian soldiers.

Romania has 500 soldiers in Iraq.

Italian firm brings rice back to Romania

Thursday, August 7, 2008

VLADENI, Romania: Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu loved Italian risotto, but he probably would have hated to see Romania's rice farms being taken over by Italian and other western companies.

As the world price of rice has risen -- tripling this year and leading to scarcity worries and export curbs by big producers in Asia -- European farmers have begun to expand eastwards.

In particular, they are buying up Ceausescu's rice paddies, many of which were abandoned after his death by firing squad and the end of communism in Romania in 1989.

This gives the impoverished Balkan state, with its water-rich lowlands, hot climate and rich soil, the chance to become a top European rice producer in coming years.

"Western expertise gives rice a new future in Romania," said Ion Dragusin, 63, who headed rice farming in Vladeni under Ceausescu.

Rice has never been a popular food in Romania, where wheat and maize are key crops. But Ceausescu was known to like risotto, and, according to a cook who prepared food for him at a hunting lodge in the Carpathian mountains, he often enjoyed a bowl of rice and milk pudding.

In the 1970s, following the example of China and North Korea, Ceausescu forced thousands of newly landless peasants and convicts to work vast paddies around the village of Vladeni in southeastern Romania, part of a grand plan to make Romania self-sufficient.

Now, Romania's rice days are returning.

"Romania has a great potential," said Jean-Pierre Brun, head of London Rice Brokers Association. "You need flat land, an easy source of water which is the Danube, and warm weather. With all these available, Romania has very good conditions to produce rice."

Rice also has potential, on a smaller scale, in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Hungary, Brun said.

MORE WATER

The Danube river, with 20 times the water reserves of the Po basin, which supplies Italy's paddies, gives Romania a competitive advantage over Italy and Spain, Europe's second-biggest grower, which both suffer water restrictions.

"We will produce at lower costs," Angelo Dario Scotti, chief executive of Italy's Riso Scotti, the biggest rice producer in Europe, and the first western company to set a foothold in Romania.

Since 2003, Riso Scotti has invested tens of millions of euros (dollars) to buy up 7,000 hectares of fragmented plots in Romania and to build a processing plant in Vladeni.

"We knew lots of abandoned land was available and the climate was perfect," said Ugo Perruca, a Riso Scotti executive. "We aim to stop buying at 10,000 hectares by next year but the rest will be grabbed by Italian, French and local investors. We are in the process of convincing farmers to come to Romania."

A handful of Italian and Spanish farmers have begun to exploit smaller acreage near the Danube port of Braila in eastern Romania, and in western Romania. Their rice is processed at the Vladeni plant.

Land prices have soared to 1,000 euros per hectare from 200 euros five years ago, but they are still six times lower than in Italy.

Most of the world's rice is grown and consumed in Asia. The European Union produces around 2.2 million tonnes of rice a year off 500,000 hectares of land, and imports another 1 million tonnes.

Perucca said Romania would produce 40,000 tonnes of rice this year, and pegged Romania's rice-growing land at 40,000 to 50,000 hectares in the next five years.

With the planned doubling of capacity at the Vladeni plant in the next five years, Romania could become an exporter of more than 100,000 tonnes per year, cutting European Union imports by 10 percent.

"In theory we could export anywhere in the world but for now we sell rice abroad to Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia," Perucca said.

SMALL PARCELS

According to the agriculture ministry, Romania has 15 million hectares of arable land, of which around 3 to 5 million are unused and available to be turned into fertile soil for grain crops, including rice.

But the cost of modern farming methods and the fragmentation of ownership that occurred when nationalised land was reprivatised after the fall of communism means it will take time for Romanian farmers to embrace rice.

The ministry is encouraging small holders to consolidate production.

"We back the western initiative to expand rice cultivation to Romania. But it is a costly culture and is not economically feasible on holdings smaller than 100 hectares," said ministry expert Frusina Miu.

However, subsidies offered by the Romanian government and the European Union total only up to 500 euros per hectare, not enough of an incentive for Romanian farmers.

Riso Scotti, for example, spent up to 1,500 euros of investment per hectare to improve the quality of land, rebuild and expand a vast network of canals and revive pumping equipment inherited from the communist era.

"Expanding rice production up to Romania's potential will be much slower without proper state support," said Radu Iofciulescu, logistics manager at Scotti.

Without cash, owners of tiny patches of muddy soil located up to 3 kilometres (2 miles) from the Danube will struggle to irrigate their land and are eager to sell, Dragusin said.

Modern rice cultivation requires mechanised equipment to spread reed-killing chemicals and specially-designed harvesters, employing only a handful of workers compared with the thousands of peasants working in Ceausescu's rice fields.

"I remember seeding and harvesting by hand with the sickle. Walking barefoot through wet fields was very hard," Dragusin said. "Yields were large, but losses were huge. Those times are gone."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Romania's Petrom net profit up 36 pct in Q2

BUCHAREST, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Romania's oil and gas group Petrom SNPP.BX, majority owned by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), reported a 36 percent rise in net profit in the second quarter on Wednesday, far below market expectations.

Petrom posted a net profit of 687 million lei ($303.6 million), versus an average expectation of 935 million lei in a Reuters poll. Sales rose 70 percent to 4.55 billion lei.

Romania's bears a headache for the authorities

BUCHAREST (AFP) — Authorities in Romania, one of the last countries in Europe with a large bear population, have grown worried about the animals' increasing forays into town, after several people were killed in recent years.

In the latest case, a 20-year-old man was ripped to shreds last week by a bear searching for food, as he was sleeping on a bench in an alleyway near downtown Brasov, in central Romania.

Local hunters, authorised by the environment ministry to track down the animal to prevent further attacks, found the female the next day, not far from the place where she had attacked her victim, and shot her dead as she tried to rush at them.

"Brown bears usually don't attack people. On the contrary, they'll run away if they see one," Dorel Noaghea, the head of the Brasov hunters' association, told AFP.

According to him, man was to blame for a dozen incidents in recent years, in which several people were killed or injured.

"He does not respect the bears' habitat, or worse, tries to turn them into a tourist attraction," offering them food to allow visitors to take pictures alongside them.

Noaghea, a 51-year-old forester who says he has "run into hundreds of bears" during outings in the Carpatian mountains, argues that bears from the area surrounding Brasov began venturing into town in the late 1970s, when the holiday resort started spreading to the neighbouring woods.

Frightened at first, the bears slowly grew used to rummaging in dustbins for food, under the eyes of amused locals, who have since nicknamed them "binmen bears".

And this quest for food has led them to some unusual places.

"One day I got a call from a person who said: 'there's a polar bear in my pantry'," says one hunter.

Upon arriving at the flat, he found a female bear covered in flour, after having apparently raided the food cupboard.

The same animal gave residents a fright a few months later when she climbed with her cub to the third floor of an apartment building, looking for food, the hunter added. The two were captured after a few hours.

Last September, another bear was found with its head stuck in a container of leftover food in a sanatorium in Predeal, some 140 kilometres (90 miles) north of Bucharest, after it had climbed in a window.

Such outings have increased in recent months, prompting the authorities to find a solution to the problem, without harming this protected species.

"We have launched a relocation programme for binmen bears in distant regions where they will find sufficient food, so that they will want to stay," says Mihai Manoiu, who is in charge of biodiversity at the environment ministry.

Romania, which currently has between 6,000 and 6,200 brown bears, suggested exporting them to countries where the species is dying out, "but since they were binmen bears, those countries said no," he adds.

The authorities say however that they will not lift hunting restrictions, despite pressure from hunters, especially as the European Union is keeping a close eye on this issue.

In the 2007-2008 season, Bucharest authorised 333 bears to be hunted down, "and only in regions where we reported damages or deadly incidents," says Manoiu.