Saturday, January 31, 2009

AP: Romanian Air Force chief fired after weapons theft

The Romanian defense minister says he has fired the chief of the Air Force following the theft of weapons from an army depot.

Mihai Stanisoara says Air Force chief Constantin Croitoru was fired because the depot was under his responsibility. Stanisoara said Friday that he also fired three officers responsible for guarding the weapons depot at Ciorogarla, which is just west of Bucharest.

He said pistols, automatic rifles and bayonets were stolen Wednesday. He said military prosecutors were investigating and police have set up road blocks and checks at border crossings.

Romania Approves Tight '09 Budget

BalkanInsight.com

Romania's parliament has approved the country's 2009 state budget which sees cuts in public spending and increase in infrastructure outflows. Around 10 billion euros, or around 20 percent of the budget, will go to investment that will create jobs, or to help finance businesses which are suffering in the global economic downturn.

The center-left government will also allot 250 million euros to a state bank to support small- and medium-sized businesses during the economic crisis. The government said that starting next year any profits that are reinvested in business would not be taxed.

The government wants also to show solidarity with low-income Romanians and will raise pensions and wages in the public sector by 5 percent in 2009, matching its expected average inflation rate. The
increases will take place in two stages, in May and November.

(Reporting by Marian Chiriac)

Biggest cocaine capture ever in Romania

BUCHAREST, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- As many as 1.2 tonnes of cocaine were captured Friday afternoon in Romania's Constanta Port, announced Aurelian Pavel, head of organized Crime and Anti-drug Combating Office (BCCOA).

This is the biggest amount of this drug category captured in Romania ever and also the biggest capture in Europe in last ten years.

The drugs were hidden in a container arrived from Brazil on Dec23, 2008 and its accompanying documents read it was loaded with fir timber, BCCOA head Aurelian Pavel said.

Romania's fiscal plans may be too little too late

By Luiza Ilie
BUCHAREST, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Politically risky cutbacks announced by Romania's centre-left cabinet on Thursday may still prove too little to prevent a full-blown financing crisis as growth slows and its new "junk" credit rating hits home.

The month-old government pledged to cap public sector wages and cut other spending by 1.5 percent as forecasts for growth worsened and analysts cast doubt on it drawing in the cash to fund a current account gap that hit 13 percent of GDP last year.

Ratings agencies officially rank Romania as the EU's most risky bet for investors, and in question now is its ability to fund the gaping external deficit, and avert a deeper recession or run on the leu currency.

To do that, it may have to drastically reform its vast and highly-unionised state administration, which accounts for a third of its workforce and has some of the highest average wages in the economy following triple-digit pay hikes in recent years.

Reforming the sector is urgent, economists say, because it soaks up scarce cash that could be helping keep the economy afloat this year.

"The government has the choice to act now and we will fare better later, or to postpone action and we will fare poorly both now and later on," said ING Bank senior economist Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc in Bucharest.

"These are its choices, street protests or no."

So far, despite repeated strike threats from state workers' trade unions, Romania has largely avoided the kind of mass protests that have rattled governments in other east European states struggling with economic pain, such as Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania.

But unions have yet to endorse Prime Minister Emil Boc's budget plan for 2009, which envisions raising pensions and wages in the public sector by 5 percent, in line with expected inflation but a far cry from double-digit hikes of recent years.

A new round of talks is scheduled for Monday.

PAINFUL

Boc says capping salary growth and eliminating flyaway bonus schemes is vital for his plans to slash the fiscal deficit to 2 percent of gross domestic product from last year's 5 percent.
He also plans to replace overtime pay with time off and decrease manpower spending on public sector personnel by 0.9 percent of GDP or by 20 percent.

This, economists say, goes some way towards trimming down the sector and raising the likelihood that Boc can make good on his overall fiscal plans.

"This is a budget that tries to patch up what it can," said Ionut Dumitru, head of research at Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.

"Some of the measures are very drastic but how much can they cut? They are starting with a pretty large handicap. A deficit of 2 percent is very ambitious and hard to attain."

Underlining the scale of the challenge in bringing down the deficit in Romania, the European Commission has forecast the fiscal shortfall to instead reach a staggering 7.5 percent this year.
The cabinet denounced the figure as based on old data, but weighing on the deficit is the previous government's decision to nearly double pensions over last year and this, which has tapped cash that's lacking in the state insurance budget.

Still, with thousands of pensioners living on less than a 100 euros a month, their anger could add to anti-government sentiment.

Boc, an experienced manager in local administration, needs to find a balance soothing economic pain for the public and convincing financial markets that he is serious about public sector reform.
A run on the currency, already weakened by 20 percent against the euro in the last three months, could ignite inflation and plunge Romania into a longer crisis.

Already, two major rating agencies say Romania is the only "junk"-level country in the European Union.

Economic pain is increasingly visible as thousands of workers are laid off and major manufacturers such as ArcelorMittal announce repeated work stoppages.

Uncertainty over economic growth this year adds to worries that Boc's budget plans may be unrealistic, with some analysts saying that building a budget on a projection of 2.5 percent economic growth is irresponsible.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see the budget deficit three, four times as big as what the government is projecting. It can get really messy," said Neil Shearing from Capital Economics.
"Growth is going to be close to minus 2.5 percent and that's going to lead to an absolute collapse in tax revenues. At the same time, there's going to be greater pressure for social spending as unemployment rises." (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Patrick Graham)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Italian FM Frattini speaks by telephone with his Romanian colleague, Cristian Diaconescu

Foreign Minister was contacted by telephone this evening by his Romanian colleague, Cristian Diaconescu.

Speaking on behalf of the Romanian Government, Minister Diaconescu expressed his and their profound dismay over the horrific rape and violent attacks committed by six Romanian citizens in the town of Guidonia, near Rome. He asked Minister Frattini to convey this sincere message of sympathy to the victims of these barbaric acts of violence, and to the Mayor of Rome, Alemanno.

Minister Diaconescu reiterated Bucharest's readiness to collaborate with the Italian authorities in order to combat with the utmost firmness any criminality in Italy for which Romanian citizens are responsible.

Minister Diaconescu took this opportunity to undertake to follow the case of Gratian Gruia, who is at present staying with the family who offered him accommodation on his arrival in Romania.

view original source

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some 20% of Romania's 2009 budget to go to investment: PM

BUCHAREST, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- As much as 20 percent of the Romanian 2009 strengthened budget will go to investment, Prime Minister Emil Boc announced on Wednesday after talks with the trade unions and employers.

"We need massive public investment. Twenty percent of the budget will go to investment, that is, 10 billion euros (13.1 billion U.S. dollars)," said Boc, adding the government will show solidarity with the people living on a low income.

The government's offices will host talks on the budget on Thursday, by taking into account all the consultations and discussions having taken place so far, Emil Boc said after a meeting with the social partners -- trade unions and employers, at the Public Finance Ministry's headquarters.

"We spoke about a few very important aspects related to the priorities of this government and to Romania's weathering the crisis. It is about the state's massive public investment in economy. It is the government's pledge that 20 percent of the budget goes to investment, in order for such investment to create jobs, to bring financial resources so that we may cope with this crisis. We want to give the money to those sectors that create jobs, so that Romania may go forward," he said.

Boc also spoke about the welfare side of the budget. "Our basic concern is that those who live on very low pensions, the vulnerable brackets of the society should benefit from our solidarity at this time of crisis, that we should help them and those who earn low salaries," he stressed.

The draft budget will be presented to the social partners one more time before being put forward to Parliament, the prime minister announced.

Boc said that the government, in order to draw up the final form of the 2009 draft state budget, held consultations with the social partners as well as with the two parties making up the Partnership for Romania, namely the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) and Democrat Liberals (PD-L).

President Traian Basescu also met the social partners on Wednesday. "I came to the meeting to present the economic situation of Romania and also the environment in which it evolves, with the recession announcing to be very bad in the EU member states, that is also our main market. Starting from this point, I wanted to show the effects of the world downturn on the Romanian economy: a substantial cut in the export figure, which will have a negative impact on preserving the same amount of labor force in the national companies," said Basescu at the meetings.

"I wanted to make you talk about our possibility to find solutions to redirect resources from the state budget to launch investment projects, instead of just waiting for such resources to come from Europe," the head of state stressed.

Romania govt to raise '09 wages, pensions by 5 pct

BUCHAREST, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Romania's centre-left government will raise pensions and wages in the public sector by 5 percent in 2009, matching its expected average inflation rate, Prime Minister Emil Boc said on Thursday.

"In 2009 wages and pensions will rise as much as the inflation rate," Boc told a briefing after a government meeting.

The increases will take place in two stages in May and November, he added.
This year's budget is seen as a key test for the five-week-old cabinet, with economists and markets waiting for convincing signs the government will conduct prudent fiscal policies, after loose spending by the previous cabinet sparked ratings downgrades. (Reporting by Bucharest newsroom; Editing by Stephen Nisbet)

EU Threatens Lawsuit Against Romania Over Regulator

By Matthew Newman

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- European Union authorities threatened to sue Romania over the government’s failure to ensure the independence of the national telecommunications regulator.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body that enforces the bloc’s laws, said in a statement today that the Romanian government’s decision to remove the president of the telecom regulator is a “serious violation of the regulator’s independence.”

“The situation in Romania is particularly worrying because this is not the first time that this has happened,” Martin Selmayr, a commission spokesman, told journalists at a regular briefing today.

Under EU rules, telecom regulators must be independent of influence by the government and companies to ensure fair competition. The Brussels-based commission, which could file a lawsuit against Romania at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, has threatened legal action against other countries over regulatory independence.

The EU threat follows the Romanian prime minister’s decision last August to fire the telecom regulator’s president. The Bucharest Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The government then restructured the regulator and named a new president the same day.

The Romanian government’s press office did not immediately respond to two calls seeking comment.

Portugal

In a related matter, the commission sued Portugal at the EU’s highest court for failing to start a competitive bid to provide so-called universal services, such as connection to a telephone network and public payphones.

The case began in 2005 when the commission told Portugal that operators weren’t able to compete with Portugal Telecom SGPS SA to offer basic services because the former monopoly was given a 30-year concession until 2025.

A spokesman for Portugal’s Public Works, Transportation and Communications Ministry declined to immediately comment.

EU telecoms rules state that governments can’t discriminate when selecting operators to provide basic services.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Newman in Brussels at Mnewman6@bloomberg.net.

Ex Romanian PM funds frozen before corruption case

Associated Press
2009-01-29

Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have frozen the bank account of a former prime minister who is due to go on trial next month accused of corruption.

Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase goes on trial on Feb. 26 accused of illegally raising funds for a failed presidential campaign in 2004.

Anti-corruption prosecutors' spokeswoman Livia Saplacan confirmed Thursday that the account holding $118,650 had been frozen. She said the action was taken in October last year.

Prosecutors announced last week that Nastase, now a lawmaker, and five other people are due to stand trial at the country's Supreme Court.

Prosecutors allege companies and state agencies were forced to pay fees to attend a 2004 conference and the money was used for Nastase's unsuccessful presidential campaign. Nastase claims the charges are politically motivated.

Romanian police investigate weapons theft

BUCHAREST, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- Romanian police continued Thursday to check all vehicles entering or leaving the capital Bucharest after a weapons and ammunition depot was broken into the previous night.

About 50 weapons are reported missing from the depot, the locks on which were found broken Wednesday night, said police, without specifying the type of the missing weapons.

Riot police, traffic police and rapid intervention units have set up checkpoints at all entries and exits of the capital, as well as in several towns, a police spokesman said.

Emergency measures were taken at border checkpoints as well.

Employees of a technical unit of the Romanian army in Ciorogarla village near the capital first noticed Wednesday night that a seal on a weapons depot had been broken, Defence Ministry spokesman Constantin Spanu said.

Romanian gov't to give €250 million to bank

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania: Prime Minister Emil Boc said Thursday that the government would provide €250 million (US$328 million) to a state bank to support small- and medium-sized businesses during the economic crisis.

He said the money would be paid to the state CEC bank to help finance businesses which are suffering in the global economic downturn. To encourage business he said that profit that was reinvested in business would not be taxed.

Boc was presenting the budget for 2009 that still needs to be approved by Parliament. The center-left coalition government has more than 70 percent of seats in the legislature.

Romania has seen economic growth of about 8 percent in the past three years. Growth is expected to be half that this year as the global economic crisis hits Romania.

Boc said that salaries and pensions would rise by five percent this year in line with inflation.

He said that as part of an austerity package the government would cut spending on state salaries by 20 percent. He said that there would be a reduction in overtime and extra benefits given to state employees.

"The objective is to tighten our belts in a year of crisis ... we want to get rods of (cost) that burden the budget."

Unemployment in Romania will increase from 4.4 percent to about 5.4 percent in 2009. Thousands of workers in heavy industry and the automobile industry have been laid off in recent months due to a drop in sales. The national currency, the leu, has lost about 20 percent of its value in the last year.

EU starts action against Romanian telecoms law

BRUSSELS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Thursday it had launched legal action against Romania for "interfering" with the independence of the national telecom regulator.

"The Romanian government's decision in 2008 first to remove the president of the national telecoms regulator and then, after a court ruling suspending this decision, to restructure and rename this authority represents ... a serious violation of the regulator's independence," the Commission said in a statement.

The three-stage legal action will end up in the European Court of Justice unless Romania amends its "illegal" telecoms legislation to ensure regulatory independence.

"Independent national regulators are the backbone of the EU telecoms rules and are therefore central to fair regulation in Europe's single telecoms market," EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

The European court can force Romania to change the law if it finds in favour of the Commission, executive arm of the 27-country European Union. (Reporting by Huw Jones, editing by Dale Hudson)

RPT-Romania in talks with EU on potential rescue loan

Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:47am GMT

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Romania has started talks with the European Commission on a potential rescue loan to shore up its budget as it struggles to prevent a financing crisis due to lax fiscal policies and a sharp economic slowdown.

Many economists warn the new EU member state may be the next in line to seek financial aid, following several of its eastern European peers, as the global crisis cuts off sources of cash.

An EU delegation arrived in Bucharest this week, parallel to a regular mission from the International Monetary Fund, and talks on EU aid were likely after Romanian President Traian Basescu said this week a 6-7 billion euro loan may be needed.

"A mission of experts from the Commission is in Bucharest. They will discuss macroeconomic stability and probably they will talk about the possibility of giving Romania financial support," Nicolae Idu, head of the EU delegation in Bucharest, told Reuters.

"President Basescu ... has discussed (with the EU Commission) the possibility of getting European financial aid worth 6-7 billion euros. This discussion is now initiated."

Diplomats say Brussels may insist any EU loan is part of a joint plan together with the IMF, because of concerns over Romania's ability to tighten budget strings and clean up its loose fiscal policy.

But Bucharest's new centre-left coalition government, in power since November's parliamentary election, has so far been reluctant to seek help from the IMF, with Basescu saying this week he might oppose it, likely because of concerns over any stringent conditions imposed by the Fund.

The IMF has said a rescue package is not on the agenda of its mission this week.

The government faces a dilemma this year because loose fiscal policy may spook financial markets and trigger a financing crisis but the economy could slide into recession without additional cash.

Diplomats also warn about social discontent likely to be triggered by budget cutbacks as unemployment is on the rise with production cutbacks and extensive layoffs.

There have been no mass protests in Romania so far, in contrast to its southern neighbour Bulgaria where riots broke out earlier this month as fears of economic pain and anger over poor policy-making reached boiling point.

But powerful trade unions are already threatening to go on strike in Romania, and wage freezes and spending cuts similar to those in Hungary and Latvia, which have received EU-IMF rescue packages, could spark protests. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Stephen Nisbet)

Romania Will Handle Economic Crisis, Says President

By Mihut Savu
Epoch Times Staff


BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania has less to worry than other nations during the economic crisis, President Traian Basescu recently declared, emphasizing that focus should instead be on the modernization of the country.

Basescu spoke during the official 150th anniversary celebrations of the founding of Romania, in a ceremony held in the Eastern city of Focsani. In 1859, the countries Moldavia and Wallachia united to form a single sovereign state.

“Romania needs modern education and healthcare, but most importantly, a modern political class,” he said during his speech, emphasizing the country's need for modernization. “We need the modernization of the Constitution, of the national institutions, and, more than anything, the modernization of our way of thinking.”

The president's remarks appear to follow a trend initiated two weeks ago, when he proposed modifying the constitution to reduce the number of chambers in parliament (forming a unicameral legislature), and to eliminate legal immunity for parliament members. Parliamentary immunity has obstructed legal proceedings against officials faced with serious corruption charges in the past.

He also added that, in his view, in case of amendments to the constitution, Romania should go to a parliamentary republic with semi-presidential governance, which would increase the number and importance of the President's prerogatives.

Movie About Illegal Abortions in Romania Wins BBC World Cinema Award

London, England (LifeNews.com) -- A Romanian abortion film that previously won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival has been named as the winner of the BBC4 World Cinema award. The movie "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," which offers a look at illegal abortions, collected another prize at BBC4's annual ceremony on Tuesday night.

The movie examines the illegal abortions that were done in communist-era Romania when abortions were prohibited -- a topic frequently used as propaganda by abortion advocates to argue for legal abortions.

Featuring Anamaria Marinca, it focuses on the "horrors" a student endures to help her friend have an abortion. It's named after the age of the baby killed in the illegal abortion.

"Thank you very much for this award, it honors me greatly," director Cristian Mungiu said after receiving it.

"[The] BBC is for me a symbol of quality, professionalism, tradition and equilibrium, therefore, I can not think of a better recommendation for those who haven't yet seen 4 Months 3 Weeks, 2 Days, to go and watch it, than a BBC award,” he added.

Actors John Hurt and Adrian Lester, director Asif Kapadia and London film festival director Sandra Hebron served on the BBC judging panel this year.

The director spent very little on the low-budget film and almost didn't have enough money to make it.

In an apparent attempt to make the movie less polemic Mungiu does include a shocking image of the aborted baby and a graphic description from the abortion practitioner of the abortion procedure involved.

One review of the movie said it also focused on the abortion practitioner's "chilling exploitation of the women's dilemma."

"Because of the pressure of the regime, women and families were so much concerned about not being caught for making an illegal abortion that they didn't give one minute of thought about the moral issue," Mungiu told reporters about his film after winning at Cannes.

"It was either you or them getting you for what you did."

He said he put the image of the dead baby after the abortion on the screen to making a point -- "people should be aware of the consequences of their decisions."

Romania's government may delay budget in wage row

Wed, Jan 28 2009, 12:39 GMT

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romania's government may delay approving this year's budget bill due to disagreements between centre-left coalition partners over plans to freeze public sector wages, officials said on Wednesday.

The budget is seen as a test for the month-old cabinet as economists and markets are waiting for convincing signs the government will conduct prudent fiscal policies, after loose spending by the previous cabinet sparked ratings downgrades.

On Tuesday, President Traian Basescu, linked with the centrist Democrat-Liberal Party (PD-L), said he would back an idea to freeze wages for six months to rein in spending and help Romania attain this year's 2 percent of GDP budget gap goal.

The former government's lavish spending triggered a big shortfall of over 5 percent last year and spurred the new cabinet into a drive to cut public expenditure drastically, to limit the impact of the world financial crisis on the economy.

But the leftist coalition partners, the Social Democrats, labelled the wage freeze plan as unrealistic, saying it would hurt the impoverished population in times of crisis.

"Our opinion is that this idea cannot work in Romania given the population's hard situation," Constantin Nita, minister in charge with small and medium-sized firms told Reuters.

"The budget would have normally been adopted on Thursday ... From our point of view, we cannot hold negotiations on this proposal. This is not an anti-crisis measure aimed at defending the poor people from the leu's weakness."

A senior PD-L official said different views in the cabinet on the issue and trade unions' reluctance to give green light to such a freezing drive, may hamper plans to adopt the budget bill as pledged on Jan 29.

"We hope to have the budget this week ... but anything is possible," the official told Reuters.

Major trade unions, which garner support from around 1.5 million public sector workers, have also threatened to stage nationwide protests if the bill will include a measure to keep wages flat for the next months.

"Tomorrow we will be discussing the budget in government," said Prime Minister Emil Boc, without saying if the bill could be also approved.

Romania plans to issue 5.4 bln lei debt in Feb

Wed, Jan 28 2009, 13:33 GMT

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romania plans to sell 5.4 billion lei ($1.69 billion) in treasuries in February, compared with the 6.5 billion lei it sold in January, finance ministry data showed on Wednesday.

It sold 12.5 billion lei in 2008, mostly in short-term paper as the global cash squeeze pushed yields upwards.

The month-old centre-left government needs to plug a big deficit for 2008 of over 5 percent of gross domestic product triggered by high spending by the former cabinet.

In February, the ministry plans to issue one-, three-, six-month and one-year treasury bills worth 5 billion lei and 400 million lei in three- and five-year bonds.

It has yet to announce treasury issuance plans for the whole of 2009, pending the approval of a budget plan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Romania's government may delay budget in wage row

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romania's government may delay approving this year's budget bill due to disagreements between centre-left coalition partners over plans to freeze public sector wages, officials said on Wednesday.

The budget is seen as a test for the month-old cabinet as economists and markets are waiting for convincing signs the government will conduct prudent fiscal policies, after loose spending by the previous cabinet sparked ratings downgrades.

On Tuesday, President Traian Basescu, linked with the centrist Democrat-Liberal Party (PD-L), said he would back an idea to freeze wages for six months to rein in spending and help Romania attain this year's 2 percent of GDP budget gap goal.

The former government's lavish spending triggered a big shortfall of over 5 percent last year and spurred the new cabinet into a drive to cut public expenditure drastically, to limit the impact of the world financial crisis on the economy.

But the leftist coalition partners, the Social Democrats, labelled the wage freeze plan as unrealistic, saying it would hurt the impoverished population in times of crisis.

'Our opinion is that this idea cannot work in Romania given the population's hard situation,' Constantin Nita, minister in charge with small and medium-sized firms told Reuters.

'The budget would have normally been adopted on Thursday ... From our point of view, we cannot hold negotiations on this proposal. This is not an anti-crisis measure aimed at defending the poor people from the leu's weakness.'

A senior PD-L official said different views in the cabinet on the issue and trade unions' reluctance to give green light to such a freezing drive, may hamper plans to adopt the budget bill as pledged on Jan 29.

'We hope to have the budget this week ... but anything is possible,' the official told Reuters.

Major trade unions, which garner support from around 1.5 million public sector workers, have also threatened to stage nationwide protests if the bill will include a measure to keep wages flat for the next months.

'Tomorrow we will be discussing the budget in government,' said Prime Minister Emil Boc, without saying if the bill could be also approved.

Romania Sometra halts output, sacks 80 pct of staff

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romanian zinc and lead maker Sometra, owned be Greece's Mytilineos (MYTr.AT), said on Wednesday it will temporarily halt production and dismiss 80 percent of its employees in response to falling metal prices.

"We will temporarily stop activity and we will oust 80 percent of our 1,050 employees because of the global crisis," said Sometra's spokesman Eugen Secmerean. "Zinc and lead prices fell dramatically and this causes us great losses."

On London Metal Exchange, lead MPB3 was bid at $1,150 a tonne, while zinc MZN3 was bid at $1,155 a tonne, both at about half of the prices registered in early 2008.

Secmerean said a resumption of production would depend on global market conditions.

Sometra produced 65,000 tonnes of zinc and 20,000 tonnes of lead last year.

In recent months, several industries across Romania have halted production to reduce the impact of the global cash shortage which has trimmed demand for their exports. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by James Jukwey)

Romania agency says Petrom to cut 3,000 jobs -TV

BUCHAREST, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Romania's top oil and gas firm Petrom SNPP.BX, majority owned by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI), is to cut 3,000 jobs, just under a tenth of its workforce, a state employment agency spokesman told a TV station on Wednesday.

"We are talking 3,000 jobs across the country," Dragos Parvan, spokesman at a local employment agency branch, told Realiatea TV.

Petrom was not immediately available for comment.

Romanian unemployment is expected to rise sharply this year from relatively low levels around 4 percent as companies cut production because of slumping global demand.

At 1040 GMT Petrom shares traded up 0.6 percent on the day at 0.1660 per share, compared with a five-year low of 0.1260 hit in October. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie, editing by Will Waterman)

EC ponders Romanian action

By Chris Dziadul | January 28, 2009 | 06:34 UK

www.broadbandtvnews.com

Romania may face action from the EC for allegedly interfering in the independence of its telecom regulator.

According to ZF, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, will later this week propose that the Commission takes action against the country for directly influencing a market worth some €4 billion.

Last August saw the controversial dismissal of Dan Georgescu, the president of the ANRTCI regulatory authority. The government then decided to restructure the ANRTCI by emergency ordinance, creating a new body known as the National Authority for Communications (ANC) and appointing the media entrepreneur and politician Liviu Nistoran as its head.

The expected EC move comes at a time when Romania’s new government is itself planning changes to the regulatory structure that may include breaking up the ANC.

The ANC is currently playing a key role in Romania’s plans to launch a DTT service sometime next year.

Romania outreach could mean European expansion

Romania (MNN) ― Evangelist Sammy Tippit is rejoicing following evangelistic meetings in Oradea, Romania.

Tippit first traveled to Romania in 1980 when Christians were persecuted for their faith. He returned to preach seven evenings of evangelistic meetings in the largest Evangelical church in the country and perhaps Europe. It seats 3,000 people. In some ways, the days were reminiscent of the 1980s when the church was persecuted. And, yet in other ways, it was so different.

It was similar because of the hunger for the Gospel. Tippit says, "[The church] was full every night. Overflow rooms and video cameras [were needed]. We had just a great experience. There's a great hunger for the Gospel, and every single night many people came to Christ as Lord and Savior."

But it was also so very different. The great problem was not dealing with persecution, but with materialism. Romania remains a poor country, but it's so different from the long bread lines that were common during the days of communism.

Tippit says materialism and a poor economy have forced Romanians from their country into other parts of Europe. Tippit is hoping the church will use this in evangelism. He says the Romanian church may have the strongest foundation to accomplish this. "They've experienced revival, great awakenings, and moves of God's Spirit; now God has dispersed them throughout Europe. And I believe they can make a great impact and be a significant instrument in God's hands to bring revival to Western Europe."

Sammy Tippit Ministries not only reaches out to Romanians; they also have ministry people in Asia and the Middle East and the majority religions in those nations. Tippit says Romanians may be used to reach people from those cultures as well. "One of the possibilities we're looking at is bringing two or three of these groups together, along with the Romanians, and each group helping the other group to cross-culturally reach out."

Cross-cultural evangelism has changed, say Tippit. "We're living in an age where population shifts have changed the whole face of Europe and North America. My feeling is: let's reach this new situation, let's reach out to these people."

Prayer and funding are needed to help Tippit and his team to develop this new evangelistic strategy. Tippit says, "There's a place for Western Christians in this whole process. So we're going to need some people who walk closely with the Lord, who have a burden for Europe, to go with us."

Since many of the believers are recent immigrants, western funding will be needed for the outreach efforts.

Pray for God's guidance as Tippit prepares to launch this outreach some time in 2010.

Nabucco summit ends with political support but uncertainty about funding

The Sofia Echo
Tue 27 Jan 2009 - Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Countries involved in the Nabucco gas pipeline project will sign a deal in June 2009 on the technical and legal aspects of the project, described in a joint declaration as a priority for the European Union, but beyond a statement by the European Investment Bank that it might put up a quarter of the money for construction of the eight billion euro scheme, how and whether Nabucco will be funded remains unclear.

At a news conference in Budapest on January 27 2009 at the close of a two-day special summit on Nabucco, held against a background of renewed urgency about alternative gas supplies for Europe after the Russia-Ukraine gas supply crisis, Hungarian prime minister Ference Gyurcsany called on the EU to provide 300 million euro in non-refundable funding.

The summit was attended by heads of state and government and economy and energy ministers from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Iraq, Georgia, Austria, Romania, Turkey, Egypt and senior officials from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the United States. Also represented were the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The consortium involved in the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which will transport gas from the Caspian region and Central Asia to Central Europe, diversifying sources and routes of gas supplies and increasing Europe’s energy independence, has approached the European Investment Bank for financing.

The gas pipeline project is a venture by Hungary’s MOL, Austria's OMV, Romania's Transgaz, Bulgaria's Bulgargaz, Turkey's Botas and Germany's RWE, which joined the established company Nabucco Gas Pipeline International that manages the project last year.

Nabucco is intended to deliver 31 billion cubic metres of gas a year from the Caspian region and the Middle East through a 3300km pipeline passing through Georgia, Turkey, Bulgarian, Romania, Hungary and Austria. The plan is for construction to start in 2011, with the first gas deliveries in 2014.

In a final declaration at the end of the summit, leaders of the countries involved reaffirmed their commitment to the project.

EIB chief Philippe Maystadt said that the EIB was prepared to consider financing up to 25 per cent of Nabucco’s construction costs, provided that a secure inter-governmental agreement on the project was achieved, but the idea of EU funding got short shrift from European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Piebalgs told journalists that the EU could help facilitate loans but because Nabucco was a commercial project would not finance it directly from its own funds. The project could not become a joint venture, he said.

Later on January 27, news agency Reuters reported that the European Commission would propose 3.5 billion euro of funding for energy projects in the wake of this winter's gas dispute, including about 250 million euro of funding for the planned Nabucco pipeline, according to a draft obtained by Reuters.

Media reports from Budapest said that the EBRD was prepared to consider lending for the project.

Deutsche Welle reported that EBRD president Thomas Mirow offered financial backing to the Nabucco pipeline, on the condition that it "meets the requirements of solid project financing”. The bank would need to see concrete plans and completion guarantees, besides a stable political agreement, said Mirow.

The project has got a new gloss because of its potential as an alternative to relying heavily on Russia and Ukraine. Estimates are that Nabucco could supply about five per cent of the EU’s gas needs.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said that the Nabucco project would be a top issue at the European Council summit on March 19 and 20 2009.

Deutsche Welle said that, on the supply side, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan both indicated they would be willing to supply some of the gas. "Azerbaijan, which is according to current plans is a transit country, could eventually serve as a supplier as well," Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev said.

Azerbaijan's gas reserves of about two or three trillion cubic meters would be sufficient to last "several decades," he said.

Austrian economy minister Reinhold Mitterlehner suggested that Egypt and Iran could also be brought in as suppliers in the long term.

The BBC reported that Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, insisted that Nabucco "is not an anti-Russian project".

Russia's plans for two alternative pipelines bypassing Ukraine - Nord Stream and South Stream - are well advanced.

Topolanek said the Russian pipelines would "maintain the EU's high energy dependency on Russia" and called them "a direct threat to the Nabucco project", the BBC said.

Romania’s Financiarul reported that Romania was reconfirming its commitment to the achievement of the Nabucco gas pipeline project, Romanian economy minister Adriean Videanu said on January 27 at the Budapest summit.

"Romania is reconfirming its commitment to the achievement of the Nabucco project in a context in which the Russian-Ukrainian dispute showed the vulnerability of the European states as far as their energy supply and energy resource diversification are concerned," Videanu said.

Romania: The Promahonas border crossing point is closed

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs that today January 20, 2009, the border crossing point Promahonas at the Greek-Bulgarian border was closed, as a result of the protest movements started by the Greek agriculturists.

It is possible that the protest to last several days, reason for which MFA recommends to the persons who travel in Greece to avoid this border crossing point.

For the Romanian citizens that are in Greece, the return to Romania may be made through the Republic of Macedonia, through the Evzoni border crossing point, which is open for the moment. The bypass is around 300 km longer than the initial road.

Similar protest movements were recorded in the region Tesalia, which led to the blocking of the Athens-Salonique highway and of the roads in Kavala, Xanti (Northern Greece), Livadeia (Central Greece) and Hania (Crete).

In this moment, around 20 Romanian citizens travelling in a bus that took the Greece-Romania route are expected at the General Consulate of Romanian to Salonic in order to issue the travel documents necessary for coming back into the country through the Republic of Macedonia. These documents are necessary taking into account that the persons concerned are travelling only with identity cards and for crossing the countries outside the European Union it is compulsory for them to have the passport or the travel document.

The General Consulate of Romanian to Salonic is in contact with the local authorities and with the transportation companies, in order to insure the necessary support, if needed.

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Second group of stranded Sudanese leave Iraq for Romania, reports UN agency

27 January 2009 – A second group of Sudanese refugees, most of whom are fleeing strife-torn Darfur, have been evacuated from perilous circumstances in Iraq to a groundbreaking transit centre in Romania, from which they hope to be resettled in the United States, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

The group of 42 Sudanese refugees are staying in the new Emergency Transit Centre set up by the Romanian Government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide a temporary haven for refugees pending final resettlement in a third country, a UNHCR spokesperson said today.

The refugees, who have been provided with winter clothing, are joining another group of Sudanese who arrived last December, making a total of 138 Sudanese refugees now in the Centre, including 40 children.

They will stay in the Centre, the first of its kind in the world and located in the Romanian city of Timisoara, until their applications for resettlement in the US are processed, UNHCR said.

In Iraq, the agency said, the Sudanese refugees suffered abuse, blackmail, eviction and assault by militias following the 2003 downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime. A total of 17 of them were killed between December 2004 and February 2005.

Because of this targeting, the refugees tried to flee Iraq but became stranded in the Al Anbar desert in the K-70 camp outside Al Rutbah town, some 75 kilometres east of the Jordan-Iraq border.

Conditions in the tented camp were very harsh, with desert sandstorms, soaring daytime temperatures and freezing weather at night, UNHCR said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Romanian president opposes asking for IMF help

01.27.09
By Justyna Pawlak

BUCHAREST, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Romanian President Traian Basescu has spoken out against a potential deal with the International Monetary Fund, defying expectations from many economists that Bucharest may be forced to seek IMF help.

Bucharest's month-old coalition government appears conflicted about seeking the fund's help to shore up jittery markets and insulate the economy from the threat of a financing crisis, in deals similar to those sought in 2008 by Hungary and Ukraine.

Basescu's comments, made in a late-night television show on Monday, come as the Washington-based lender began a scheduled mission to Bucharest. The fund has said talks about any assistance programme are not on the agenda for the visit.

A senior coalition strategist, Ionut Popescu, said in December at least 10 billion euros in IMF cash may be necessary, while Prime Minister Emil Boc has said a decision whether to seek help had not yet been taken, saying the country had 'many solutions' to its current situation.
But Basescu, who has close political ties with Boc's month-old cabinet, said Romania should not seek an IMF deal.

'Romania needs financing ... but the solution is to take money from the EU, not from the Fund .. We are not in the same situation as Hungary,' he said.
'I absolutely oppose the idea that Romania goes to the IMF to ask for 10 billion euros.'

Many economists say Romania may be unable to find cash for short-term debt and public spending without external help this year as its economy is expected to slow sharply to less than 2 percent from last year's buoyant growth rates of 8-9 percent.

It may also be forced to talk to the IMF if financial markets turn more negative on its situation. Already, two major rating agencies place it as the only EU member with sub-investment grade.
Economists say markets are waiting for convincing signs from the government that it will conduct prudent fiscal policy, after loose spending by the previous cabinet sparked ratings downgrades.

In its first test, Boc's centre-left coalition is expected to approve its budget plan for 2009 this week.

Boc, who appointed Popescu as an economic adviser earlier this month, has pledged to focus on re-establishing credibility with markets and to slash the state deficit to 2 percent of gross domestic product from some 5 percent last year.

But he faces a policy dilemma because without much additional cash, a slump in foreign demand for its exports and a squeeze on domestic credit could drive the economy into recession.

Sudanese refugees evacuated from Iraq arrive in Romania


27 Jan 2009
Source: UNHCR

A group of 42 Sudanese refugees arrived in the Romanian city of Timisoara last night after being evacuated from a makeshift camp in the desert in Iraq. The refugees, who have been provided with winter clothing, are staying in the new Emergency Transit Centre set up by the Romanian government, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide a temporary haven for refugees pending final resettlement in a third country.

They are joining another group of Sudanese who arrived last December. A total of 138 Sudanese refugees are now in the Centre, including 40 children. They will stay in Timisoara until their applications for resettlement in the United States are processed.The centre, the first of its kind in the world, has been used for refugees – like these ones – facing acute danger and in need of immediate evacuation.

In Iraq, the Sudanese refugees suffered abuse, blackmail, eviction and assault by militias following the 2003 downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime. A total of 17 Sudanese were killed between December 2004 and February 2005.Because of this targeting, the refugees tried to flee Iraq but became stranded in the Al Anbar desert in the K-70 camp outside Al Rutbah town, some 75 km east of the Jordan-Iraq border. Conditions in the tented camp were very harsh, with desert sandstorms, soaring daytime temperatures and freezing weather at night.

AP: Romania: heroin shipment seized from Turkish truck

BUCHAREST, Romania: Police say they have seized 120 pounds (55 kilograms) of heroin found stashed in a Turkish truck in the Romanian capital.

Police say the drugs seized in Bucharest last week were destined for the Netherlands.

Police said Monday that the Turkish truck driver was detained pending an investigation.

Officials had been monitoring the truck and its driver since they entered Romania on Jan. 12 at the Danube port town of Giurgiu. The truck had been transporting construction materials.

Police seized the drugs and took the driver into custody on Wednesday. They say the heroin has an estimated street value of about €2 million ($2.6 million).

Romania’s Dictator Ceauşescu Would Have Turned 91 Today

BalkanTravellers.com

26 January 2009 | Today’s date – now just a regular day for Romanians, used to be one of their biggest national holidays, on which they celebrated the birthday of their totalitarian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu until 1989.

Until the collapse of the communist regime in Romania, the 26 of January was marked by festive events, odes to “the people’s beloved son” and pompous conclusions praising his accomplishments, the national television Realitatea reported today.

Nicolae Ceauşescu, who would have turned 91 today, was Romania’s totalitarian leader between 1965 and 1989, although he officially held the title of President. His rule is mainly remembered for having deviated from the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union and for the way it ended – through the swift deposition, trial and execution of Ceauşescu and his wife Elena.

Romania’s totalitarian regime was also marked by Ceauşescu’s personality cult, which grew and intensified in the latter years of its existence. According to the Realitatea report, all Romanians used to know at least a verse of the songs dedicated to the ‘Great Leader’. The Geniul din Carpaţi, or The Genius of the Carpathians, as he was also referred to, reportedly had a sceptre, like that of a king, made for himself.

And live like a king he did. Known for his luxurious lifestyle, Ceauşescu owned over 15 luxury palaces around Romania, including a riverside villa at Snagov, a lakeside resort at Cernavodă, a mountainside lodge at Braşov and the Primaverii Palace in Bucharest, which reported had rooms and rooms filled with priceless silk, porcelain, marble, silverware, chandeliers and carpets. One supposedly kept Elena’s collection of fur coats while another was filled with Ceauşescu's suits, tuxedos and hunting uniforms.

Ceauşescu alleged misappropriation of gifts from countries and organisations was one of the accusations against him in the hasty military court trial that took place on December 25 of 1989. Found guilty on such and more serious charges, like genocide, he and his wife were sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad. Video images of the trial and the dead couple (but not of the execution itself) were promptly released and screened all over the world.

Out of the thousands of people who used to come out of the factories and school in order to demonstrate their love for Ceauşescu on his birthday, few remain today that remember the past with nostalgia and visit the former dictator’s grave, according to the Realitatea report.

Located in the Ghencea Cemetery in Bucharest, Ceauşescu’s grave and his wife’s one are not grand but remain covered in flowers and symbols of the regime. In the past, there were assertions that the graves do not in fact contain the couple’s bodies and one of their sons, Velentin, lost a lawsuit asking for investigation of the matter in 2007. Their daughter’s and some supporters’ requests to move them to mausoleums or churches built to house their remains, were denied by the government.

Europe's medical students flock to Romania

Monday 26 January 2009
France24 TV

While Romanian doctors often leave their country to work elsewhere, medical students are flocking to Romania. Our correspondents met some of them at the Medical University of Cluj-Napoca.

Cluj-Napoca, in the heart of Transylvania. At first sight you’d think this is just your ordinary sleepy provincial town. But take a look behind the austere facades and you’ll see that calm and tranquility have become a thing of the past. One French student is absolutely thrilled: “Nightlife is great. You can meet many people and party a lot! Even more than back in France!”

The secret of this vitality? Medical students! Out of the 7,000 studying at the Cluj-Napoca Medical School, 1,600 come from abroad. Romania is indeed very attractive for medical students: affordable tuition fees, good facilities and many opportunities for clinical exposure. It’s for these reasons French student Sivashalini left her university of Strasburg two and half years ago. “Compared to France, where we’ve had to pass an entrance examination and where professors are quite elitist, here it's like a dream: professors are very open, they love teaching us, and that’s why we enjoy learning even more!”

Sivashalini is driven by her enthusiasm. But that’s not her only ally in her quest to become a doctor. Conditions here are optimal: direct access to the hospital, concrete work with patients, from theory to practice! “Here we take the time to examine, but also talk to our patients. In France things go faster.”

Of course lessons are taught in French: 1,000 students are registered in the French-speaking department. The English-speaking section also stands strong with about 600 students, 200 of which come from Sweden. “This education is very different from the medical education in Sweden because we get to do more 'patient contact' and we get more advanced anatomy classes,” say one student from Sweden. Romania is now shining out as an ideal location to study medicine in Europe.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Romanian Holocaust survivor from Aventura to address United Nations

A South Florida Holocaust survivor will tell her story of the Romanian Holocaust at the United Nations. BY ELINOR J. BRECHER

Each year, the United Nations holds an International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

This year it's on Tuesday, and the theme is ``An Authentic Basis for Hope: Holocaust Remembrance and Education.''

Taking the podium before the keynote speaker -- Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council at the State of Israel's Holocaust memorial -- is Aventura's Ruth Glasberg Gold.

''We would like you to share your story of survival, including your experiences at the camp at Bershad and your struggle to bring the plight of the Jews of Transnistria camps to light,'' a letter of invitation reads. ``Your remarks should last approximately 15 minutes.''

Fifteen minutes, to educate 1,500 people in the Trusteeship Council Chamber about what Gold, 78, calls ''an obscure episode'' in Holocaust history.

`ALMOST UNKNOWN'

''The Romanian Holocaust is almost unknown,'' she said. ``Transnistria means nothing to anybody, even to Jews from Romania.''

Transnistria, in western Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union. There were no gas chambers in the camps there, no numbers tattooed on inmates' arms. They were left to starve, freeze or die of disease.

The retired nurse -- who last worked at Florida International University's North Campus student clinic -- will note the day's particular personal significance.

``January 27 is the same date in 1942 that I was left an orphan alone in the world.''

That day, her mother died, as had Gold's father and brother.

The same day in 1945, Soviet troops liberated the death camp Auschwitz.

Einat Temkin, assistant public information officer for the UN's Holocaust Outreach program, said event organizers knew of Gold because of her book, Ruth's Journey: A Survivor's Memoir (University Press of Florida, 1996) and because ``she's rather well known as being a good speaker and being very moving.''

FORCED OUT

Gold's story begins in Romania's Bukovina region, in the city of Czernowitz. In 1941, Romanian soldiers and German Nazis marched into town and massacred 2,000 Jews.

The ruling Romanian fascists forced Jewish residents into a ghetto.

Gold, then 11, and her family, survived a bone-chilling, two-week march to the town of Bershad, where a concentration camp was established.

Her parents and brother soon died, and during the next three years, Gold endured sub-human conditions, fed only corn mush once a day.

SUPPORT GROUP

Liberated in 1944, she went to a refugee camp in Yugoslavia, then a detention camp on Cyprus, then to Palestine, which became Israel in 1948.

She married, moved to Colombia, and came to the United States in 1972. In 1990, she co-founded the Child Survivors Support Group of Florida, which still meets.

Now widowed, she has two children and two grandchildren, all of whom will be in Tuesday's audience.

''The child survivors are the last ones left to tell the story, and we are slowly dying out,'' she said. ``We returned from the abyss and survived to speak the unspeakable.''

Michael Dirda on 'Searching for Cioran'

The life of a Romanian writer who remade himself as a Parisian aphorist.

By Michael Dirda
Sunday, January 25, 2009; BW10

SEARCHING FOR CIORAN

By Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston

Edited by Kenneth R. Johnston

Indiana Univ. 284 pp. $27.95

The philosophical essayist E.M. Cioran (1911-1995) was born and educated in Romania, where he belonged to an extraordinary generation of young intellectuals, one that included the historian of religion Mircea Eliade (The Myth of the Eternal Return, The Sacred & the Profane) and the playwright Eugene Ionesco ("The Bald Soprano," "Rhinoceros"). Like his friends, the young Cioran eventually left Romania, in his case traveling to Paris on a scholarship in the late 1930s. Somehow he eked out an existence during the war years and in 1949 emerged as a French writer with his first book in that language, Prècis de decomposition, translated as A Short History of Decay. While this won him critical praise and a major prize, Cioran nonetheless continued to live the life of an impoverished undergraduate, eating in student cafeterias, sleeping in university housing or cheap hotel rooms. He seems to have owned almost nothing.

Only in about 1960 did he acquire a garret-like apartment, even though he had by then published several other books, now regarded as modern classics, both for the purity of their French and the starkness of their pessimistic thought: All Gall is Divided, The Temptation to Exist and History and Utopia. These, along with such later collections of essays and aphorisms as The New Gods, The Trouble with Being Born and Anathemas and Admirations were all translated over three decades by Richard Howard, starting in the late 1960s. They made an enormous impact on readers, eliciting long appreciations by Susan Sontag, William Gass and many others.

In these books, Cioran is largely a master of the pensée -- what one might call the philosophical aphorism. As he once said, his work characteristically "foundered somewhere between the epigram and the sigh!" For the fatalistic Cioran, the master-thinkers include the Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Pascal and Chamfort, Lichtenberg and Nietzsche. In the darkness of his themes -- the sadness of life, hypochondria and sickness, despair, failure, death, the decline of the West -- he recalls his contemporary Samuel Beckett, whom he admired:

"The only thing the young should be taught is that there is virtually nothing to be hoped for from life. One dreams of a Catalogue of Disappointments which would include all the disillusionments reserved for each and every one of us, to be posted in the schools."

"To live is to lose ground."

"According to a Chinese sage, a single hour of happiness is all that a centenarian could acknowledge after carefully reflecting upon the vicissitudes of his existence. . . . Since everyone exaggerates, why should the sages constitute an exception?"

"Love's great (and sole) originality is to make happiness indistinct from misery."

"Only what we have not accomplished and what we could not accomplish matters to us, so that what remains of a whole life is only what it will not have been."

"Old age, after all, is merely the punishment for having lived."

Throughout his life in France, Cioran (whose name the French pronounce "Cee Oh Rahn") notoriously sought to avoid fame -- "I am an enemy of glory" -- but not, it turns out, for entirely philosophical reasons. As Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston reveals in this biography and memoir, Cioran had in his youth -- like Eliade to an even greater extent -- espoused right-wing nationalist views, full of zealotry and tinged with anti-Semitism.

While originally intending to write a full biography, Zarifopol-Johnston died before she had progressed beyond the rough drafts of Cioran's Romanian years. These sections her husband has edited, along with her research diary. Thus Searching for Cioran presents portraits of the young Cioran, full of visionary passion and ambition, and of the aged philosopher, suffering from Alzheimer's disease in a Paris hospice. There is also a long account of Zarifopol-Johnston's own thoughts and feelings when she returned to her native Romania to speak with Cioran's brother and surviving friends.

The resulting book presents a young provincial's progress: an idyllic childhood as the son of an Orthodox priest, intense periods of reading, a fondness for drink and prostitutes, resentment of Romanian backwardness, increasing ambition and, following a period of study in Hitler's Berlin, the adoption of repugnant political views. Only when Cioran came to France was he able to transform himself into "the ironic moralist and elegant stylist so admired today." To his biographer, Cioran's evolution follows "what Erik Erikson calls 'a classical pattern of repudiation and devotion.' First, repudiation of a career as a Romanian intellectual; next, temporary devotion to an extreme ideology, apocalyptic nationalism, that was for him always problematic; then, the sense of a spiritual mission which gradually narrowed its focus from the nation to the self, finally mobilizing the creative capacities of the self into the born-again writer." Throughout, Zarifopol-Johnston seeks to understand Cioran rather than accuse him, aiming above all to avoid any simple-minded "trial mentality."

The young Cioran saw being Romanian as a misfortune. He was reared, he felt, in a backwater country, home to a primitive culture and an obscure language. "Forgive me God because I was born Romanian" became his personal motto. He grew up feeling simultaneously bored and disgusted with Romanian life, increasingly prey to vicious insomnia and even to epileptic fits. Like so many romantic young men and women before him, he also "believed in the prestige of unhappy passions."

After schooling in Bucharest, Cioran won a scholarship to Berlin, where he skipped classes and began the practice of what he called "abstract indiscretion." This impudent style of philosophizing, observes Zarifopol-Johnston, appears throughout his youthful and mature writing: As an example, she cites Cioran's mot: "Jesus was the Don Juan of agony!" In his early 20s, Cioran returned home from Germany and suddenly emerged as a full-blown writer. "Between 1934 and 1937, the year of his self-exile to France, Cioran published four books in Romania, of which one, On the Heights of Despair, was a paean to lyricism, another, Romania's Transfiguration, was a paean to totalitarianism, and a third one, Tears and Saints, was a meditation on mysticism, an extreme form of religious lyricism. These three books mark three important stages -- existential, political, and religious -- in young Cioran's personal identity crisis."

On the Heights of Despair and Tears and Saints are now both available in English translations by Zarifopol-Johnston. But not Romania's Transfiguration, which the older Cioran condemned and largely tried to suppress (though late in his life he did allow republication of an edited version, but only in Romanian). In this book, we are told by his biographer, Cioran "recommends, with utmost seriousness, extreme measures such as the extermination of three quarters of Romania's population, the 'fanaticization' of its remaining population, and dictatorship as the sure means to create a 'Romania with China's population and France's destiny!' " This call for radical change was made even more reprehensible because Cioran openly sympathized with the Iron Guard, a fascistic and mystical military organization supposedly devoted to "moral and spiritual change, ethnic 'regeneration' by returning to Orthodox Christian values, and 'salvation' through asceticism and sacrifice."

While Zarifopol-Johnston points out both continuities and rifts between the thought of the "Romanian" Cioran and the "French" Cioran, her biography unfortunately breaks off just at the crucial, lost years: that first decade in Paris, when Cioran turned his back on his native country, his language and his wrong-headed youthful enthusiasms before re-emerging as a master of French prose in A Short History of Decay. Still, she does include a wrenching portrait of the writer's last years, when an intellect that valued lucidity and self-awareness above all else was cruelly destroyed by the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. The very last section of Zarifopol-Johnston's book provides an equally dismal account of squabbles over Cioran's literary estate and the right to quote from some of his unpublished works.

Despite its fragmentary character, Searching for Cioran offers valuable material about an important writer's early life. Nonetheless, it is too incomplete to be more than a supplement to some fuller future biography. In the meantime, readers can still return to, or discover, Cioran's own almost hyperbolically desolate essays and aphorisms. Turn to virtually any page and you are likely to find some striking, if lugubrious observation. "Any and all water is the color of drowning." "When you know yourself well and do not despise yourself utterly, it is because you are too exhausted to indulge in extreme feelings." "Only one thing matters: learning to be the loser."

E.M. Cioran crisply summarized life's essential absurdity -- his own and yours and mine -- in a wonderfully cheeky and dismissive phrase: "After all, I have not wasted my time, I too have fidgeted, like anyone else, in this aberrant universe." ·

Michael Dirda's e-mail address is mdirda@gmail.com.

Romanian president calls for national solidarity amid economic crisis

BUCHAREST, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Saturday that his country would overcome the ongoing world economic crisis if all people and political groups could stay united and pool their wisdom.

"I am convinced we will be able to pass through these difficult times more easily than other countries in Europe," the president stated in his speech at a ceremony held in Iasi, eastern Romania, to mark the 150th founding anniversary of the Union of the Romanian Principalities.

"We only need the solidarity between the people and the political class, and also the wisdom to help those in need to deal more easily with the crisis," said Basescu, adding that "we need to stay united in our efforts to cross this difficult situation."

The president also urged political leaders in the country to sacrifice group interests for Romanians. "We need all those representing now the political class to make sacrifices. The same as our predecessors did to sacrifice their personal and group interests 150 years ago, Romanians need now a political class to know how to sacrifice group interests in the name of the nation too," Basescu said.

On Jan. 24 150 years back, two Romanian principalities -- Wallachia and Moldavia -- formed a Union by electing Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza as the common ruler.

The unification generated a favorable framework for the modernization of the Romanian society. Romania became a national unitary state on Dec. 1, 1918, when Transylvania also joined in to form a Greater Union.

IMF says no funding for Romania on mission agenda

BUCHAREST, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund will visit Romania next week for a scheduled mission, with no talks on the agenda about providing any funding, the IMF said on Friday.

Many economists say Romania's month-old coalition government may be forced to seek IMF help later this year to prevent a financing crisis and to reassure jittery markets, in deals similar to those sought in 2008 by Hungary and Ukraine.

There have been few signs from the centre-left policymakers that any deal is on the cards, although a senior coalition strategist said in December at least 10 billion euros in IMF cash may be needed to insulate the country from global crisis.

"The government has not requested an IMF programme, and therefore there are no discussions about it on the mission's agenda," the lender said in a statement.

"Moreover, we are not exerting any pressure on the government to request an IMF programme."

The lender said the mission will assess Romania's macroeconomic situation and discuss policy plans with the new government and businesses.

Bucharest's ruling centrists face a policy dilemma because any fiscal stimulus given to the economy in the wake of global crisis may spook markets already concerned about loose budget policies and large twin fiscal and trade deficits last year.

But without much additional cash, Romania's economy may slide into recession because of slumping foreign demand will damage exports and scant private funding may choke off domestic consumption, economists say.

"It is very likely that another country in eastern Europe will go to the IMF and it is more than likely that it will be Romania or Bulgaria," said Neil Shearing, emerging Europe economist at Capital Economics in London.

"Romania has been living broadly beyond its means."

Underlining such concerns, two of the main rating agencies see Romania as the only EU country with sub-investment grade.

Since coming to power after November's election, the coalition has pledged to slash deficits and focus on re-establishing credibility with international investors.

Observers say a convicing budget for this year will be a crucial test of its ability to steer the country through the global crisis. Talks on the budget are due to end next week.

So far, Prime Minister Emil Boc has pledged to cut the deficit to 2 percent of gross domestic product from some 5 percent last year but has failed to convince independent economists that his cutback plans are realistic.

Romania's last stand-by accord with the IMF expired in mid-2006 and Romania did not renew it, saying its policy mix was appropriate. The Fund said at the time its deal was off-track because of weak policies to bring down stubborn inflation.