Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Greece's OTE to buy Romanian mobile company Zapp

ATHENS, June 30 (Reuters) - Greece's largest telecoms company OTE (OTEr.AT) said on Tuesday it signed a deal to buy Zapp, Romania's fourth-biggest mobile operator, to gain market share and a 3G operating license in southeast Europe's largest mobile telephony market.

"The price to acquire Zapp's shares is expected to reach 61 million euros (equity value) while Cosmote will assume debt and other obligations worth about 146 million euros," OTE unit Cosmote said in a statement.

Zapp owns a 3G license in Romania, an asset which OTE's Romanian mobile unit, Cosmote Romania, lacks.

Romania to increase troops in Afghanistan

BUCHAREST, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Romania will increase the number of its soldiers in Afghanistan while cutting significantly its forces in Iraq, President Traian Basescu said on Tuesday.

"We will reduce our participation in the operation theaters, with the total number of militaries to be cut from 2,067, as it was in 2009, down to 1,667, as it was planned for 2010," the Romanian head of state told a press conference after a meeting of the Supreme Council for Country Defense (CSAT).

He explained that Romania's mission in Iraq was completed, with only 20 out of the current 520 Romanian troops to continue to stay in Iraq. They will no longer be part of the multinational force's structures, but will only participate in the training of the Iraqi army, under the NATO training mission.

"Our participation in the multinational force will become zero on July 1 this year and will stay zero next year too," Basescu said.

Referring to Afghanistan, Basescu said that Romania will send an additional 108 soldiers to the operations there under NATO in 2010, so that the battalion in the Zabul region will be able to honor all its categories of missions.

"As you all know, this is the border with Pakistan, that's why a consolidation of our forces in the Zabul area is necessary, so that the troops have all means at their disposal to carry out their mission," the president stressed.

Romanian uranium taken to secure site

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Energy Department reports it has removed the last remaining bomb-grade uranium from Romania as part of an international nuclear nonproliferation program.

Authorities removed 118 pounds of highly enriched uranium from two research reactors in Romania and flown to Russia for secure storage. The shipments were organized by the department's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Russia had provided the uranium years ago. All the highly enriched U.S. uranium was removed from the country last year. The program is part of a broader worldwide effort to move bomb-grade uranium away from research reactors to more secure locations. More than 100 research reactors across the globe still have highly enriched uranium.

Romanian cbank cuts rates by 50 bps to 9 pct

BUCHAREST, June 30 (Reuters) - Romania's central bank cut its key interest rate by 50 basis points to 9 percent on Tuesday, the third cut so far this year, in its effort to revive lending and lift the economy out of recession.

It also lowered the minimum reserve requirements by 3-5 percentage points.

Nine of the 14 analysts polled by Reuters earlier this month saw a 50 basis point cut in the benchmark rate.
The move brings Romania's interest rates below Hungary's, which stand at 9.5 percent, but keeps them well above Poland's 3.5 percent and Czech Republic's 1.5 percent.

Analysts expect more rate cuts in the region as economic data worsens, while an improvement in risk appetite in recent months has helped currencies recover from record lows hit in the first months of this year. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Justyna Pawlak)

Romania May Cut Interest Rate to Ease Recession, Survey Shows

By Adam Brown

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s central bank will probably lower its main interest rate today to counter the effects of a lending crunch that has cut jobs, shut factories and prompted consumers to postpone spending, a survey of economists showed.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei will cut the monetary policy rate to 9 percent from 9.5 percent, according to seven of eight economists in a Bloomberg survey. One predicted a deeper cut. The bank will announce the decision after 11 a.m. in Bucharest.

“We expect a cut of half a percentage point, given the prospects for disinflation and a sharper economic contraction,” Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, chief economist at ING Bank Romania, said in an e-mail. “Yet the governor is likely to preserve a positive bias and for this reason we would not expect a sharp cut.”

Central banks throughout Eastern Europe have been cutting interest rates and seeking international aid to counter the effects of recessions that have slashed demand for exports and cut foreign investment from the region’s main trading partners in western Europe.

Romania’s economy contracted an annual 6.2 percent in the first quarter as tightening credit slowed private lending, eased wage growth and prompted manufacturers such as carmaker Dacia SA and ArcelorMittal Romania SA to cut output.

At the same time, the inflation rate fell to 6 percent on year in May from 6.5 percent in April and as high as 9 percent in July of last year. The central bank says inflation may slow to 4.5 percent by the end of 2009.

Economic Outlook

The government predicts the economy will shrink about 4 percent this year, after growing 7.1 percent last year, the fastest pace in the European Union. Central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu, though, predicts an international loan may avert an economic decline for the full year.

The government agreed last month to a 20 billion-euro ($28 billion) international loan led by the International Monetary Fund and the EU to help finance its budget and current account deficits. As a condition, the government froze state wages this year and raised some taxes. Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Serbia have also sought bailouts to prevent defaults and aid banks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest atabrown23@bloomberg.net

Romanian banks able to absorb moderate shocks-c.bank

BUCHAREST, June 29 (Reuters) - Romania's financial sector has so far proven able to absorb the relatively moderate shocks stemming from the global crisis, the central bank said in its annual financial stability report on Monday.

'The financial stability indicators point out to a low systemic risk in the context of a limited external exposure,' it said in a statement.

'A number of stress test scenarios have been run. The outcomes highlight a good shock absorption capacity if some banks would bring in additional capital,' it said, adding that a process of raising the capital was ongoing.

However, it said the main vulnerabilities for the sector are the volatility of the external financing and an increased credit risk, mirrored in strong dynamics of the non-performing loans.

In just several months, Romania has turned from being an attractive destination for foreign investment to an economy plagued by ballooning foreign debt, a gaping external shortfall, bloated government budgets and sour market sentiment.

This has forced it to seek IMF-led aid, following similar deals secured by fellow European Union-member states Hungary and Latvia which suffered when private lending slowed sharply.

The bank said the 20-billion-euro aid package together with the banking agreements concluded in Vienna and Brussels earlier this year have contributed to the easing of the perspective of a deep and rapid adjustment of external financing.

'This circumvented adverse affects on the economic activity and the banking sector,' it said.

Nine European banks have agreed to shore up the capital of their Romanian affiliates to help the country recover from global crisis last month in Brussels, by increasing the minimum capital adequacy ratio for each subsidiary from 8 to 10 percent during the 24-month loan programme.

The IMF has said that banks from countries like Austria, Italy and France have a role in the recovery of countries in Eastern Europe, where they bankrolled a credit-fuelled boom over the past few years.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Victoria Main)

Romanian soccer star Popescu denies being a secret police informant

By Alison Mutler – 11 hours ago

BUCHAREST, Romania — Gheorghe (Gica) Popescu, one of Romania's best-known sportsmen, denied newspaper claims Monday that he was an informer for the country's secret police during the 1980s.

The defender was part of a Romania side that qualified for three consecutive World Cups starting in 1990 and two European Championships. He also captained Barcelona to win the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1997 by defeating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0.

The 41-year-old Popescu said he once signed a document promising to "defend the national interests" during the regime of the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

"I signed a very general thing. My conscience isn't clear, it's very clear," he said at a news conference. "I didn't inform on anyone."

During Ceausescu's rule, the regime's security services kept tabs on Romania's athletes, and some players involved in international competitions were reportedly asked to share details of their conversations with foreigners.

Daily newspaper Adevarul reported that Popescu had been an informant from 1986 until the regime was toppled three years later.

Popescu called the report "a big lie," adding he was "very upset" and denied informing on anyone.

Popescu's 18-year playing career also included stints with Tottenham, Galatasaray and PSV Eindhoven. He played for Romania 115 times, scoring 16 goals.

Romania prosecutors seek inquiry against ex-minister

The general prosecutor asked Romania's president to agree to a criminal inquiry against the former privatisation agency head.
The general prosecutor on Monday asked Romania's president to agree to a criminal inquiry against the former privatisation agency head who is suspected of abusing his position while overseeing high-profile asset sales.
Romania, facing a full-year European Commission assessment in July, is under pressure from Brussels to prove it is serious about fighting graft and speeding up top-level investigations.
Ovidiu Musetescu, 53, oversaw the privatisation of aluminium smelter Alro and aluminium rolling mill Alprom as head of the privatisation agency known as APAPS.

Prosecutors said they have evidence the state-owned stakes in the two firms were undervalued, the sale process was uncompetitive and there was a lack of transparency.

"We request approval for a criminal investigation ... against the former chief of APAPS for deliberately setting an undervalued (price) level for assets during the privatisation of Alro and Alprom," the prosecuting office said in a statement.

Musetescu, who headed APAPS from 2001-2003, was not immediately available to comment.

In late 2001, the then leftist government of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase approved the long-awaited sale strategy for Alro, one of Europe's biggest smelters, whose privatisation was a key condition for a $300 million World Bank loan.

A consortium led by U.S. metals trader Marco gained control of Alro in 2002 in a $73 million deal.

Later that year, the same consortium paid around $14 million to buy the state's majority stake in neighbouring Alprom, whose chief raw materials supplier is Alro.

Alro and Alprom are now owned by Dutch aluminium producer Vimetco.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Erste wants to delay BCR listing to 2010-11 -AVAS

BUCHAREST, June 25 (Reuters) - Austrian Erste Bank (ERST.VI) ERST.BX wants to postpone listing its Romanian unit BCR, the Black Sea country's biggest bank, to 2010-2011, Romania's privatisation agency AVAS said on Thursday.

Under a 3.75 billion euro ($5.2 billion) deal to buy BCR signed in 2005 Erste had three years to list BCR on the Bucharest stock exchange following completion to give minority shareholders an exit option.

"Even though it was not required to do so, Erste has asked for an opinion from AVAS regarding (BCR) listing ... to be done in 2010 or 2011," AVAS head Mircea Ursache was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres. "Given current market conditions I agreed with this (listing plans)."

Erste officials were not available for comment.

Apart from Erste, which owns a 69.3 percent stake in BCR , five Romanian investment firms own a combined 30 percent of the bank. Other investors including individuals hold the rest. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Dan Lalor) ($1 = 0.7177 euro)

E.ON to sue Romania over gas tariff cuts

BUCHAREST, June 25 (Reuters) - The Romanian gas distribution unit of Germany's utility group E.ON (EONGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) will sue the European Union state's energy price regulator after it enforced gas tariffs cuts in May, the firm said on Thursday.

Following Romanian authorities' decision to lower gas costs by 3 percent as of May 1, E.ON Gaz Distributie said it recorded "justified uncovered costs" worth 172 million lei ($40.8 million) so far.

"The decision... seriously affects the financial status of the company, endangering the stability of the employees' work places and the investment programmes," E.ON, which runs services in over 1,000 towns across Romania, said in a statement.

Romanian officials recently said gas tariffs will fall by another 5 percent as of July.

On Thursday, the European Commission accused 25 of the European Union's 27 member states, including Romania, of breaching rules to boost competition in energy markets. [ID:nLO30427]

State news agency Agerpres quoted the head of the state's energy price watchdog saying Romania will prepare a timetable for scrapping state-set prices for gas and electricity in response to Brussels criticism. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mike Nesbit)

Commentary: The Mockery of Romanian History

Former Romanian President Iliescu avoids investigation for alleged crime

By Gina Neagu & Adrian Sturdza
Epoch Times Staff

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu is no longer being investigated for the June 13–15, 1990 incident when miners attacked protesting students on orders from their government.

The violent incidents were dubbed the Mineriads.

Investigations began in 2005 that could have led to Iliescu’s trial on several charges, possibly landing him life in prison.

His charges included crimes against humanity, accessory to murder and revolt, censorship, war propaganda, genocide, inhuman treatment, and complicity to torture.

All charges were dropped a few days ago, as prosecutors were unable to find conclusive evidence of these felonies for a variety of technical reasons, including lack of evidence to prosecute.

The Revolt

The 1989 Romanian Revolution began as a popular revolt in Timisoara, but after their former communist president Ceauescu was overthrown (and eventually executed,) Iliescu and a few other second-rank communists seized power and created an organization named National Salvation Front (FSN).

Iliescu was quickly acknowledged as the leader of the organization and received provisional authority.

His proposal was an
original democracy.

This is widely accepted to have meant the adoption of Perestroika-style reforms rather than the complete removal of existing institutions.

Mikhail Gorbachev and the rest of the Soviet leadership gave the new regime a warm reception.

Allegations Against Iliescu

Iliescu and other figures in the leading FSN were allegedly responsible for calling the Jiu Valley miners to Bucharest on January 28 and June 14, 1990.

The miners were sent to end the protests of the citizens—mainly students—gathered in the University Square. The protests were targeted against the ex-communist leaders of Romania.

The derogatory term used to describe this demonstration was the Golaniad (rascal in Romanian).

The miners descended on the capital, armed with wooden clubs and bats. They attacked the protesters. They also trashed the University Square of Bucharest, various museums, and the headquarters of opposition parties.

The miners’ violence led to an official figure of at least six dead, although some sources estimate figures between 200 and 300 dead. At least 5,000 were injured.

Official Explanations

Official press reports said the protesters were holding an unauthorized demonstration—which was allowed to go on for days—and were wielding undemocratic ideals and anarchist slogans, as well as being a danger to public health.

Iliescu later thanked the miners, saying “I thank you for all you’ve done these past few days, in general for your attitude of high civic conscience.”

He expanded on this, claiming a right-wing liberal, neo-fascist, international conspiracy had attempted to usurp legitimate power and the destruction of the progressive left within Romania.

Pardon of the Miners’ Leader

On December 15, 2004, just prior to the end of his term, Iliescu pardoned Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners during the early 1990s. Cozma had been sentenced in 1999 to 18 years in prison, in conjunction with another Mineriad in 1991.

The pardon brought harsh criticism from all Romanian media.

The United States Embassy released a press statement calling the pardon “a surprising and worrying act.” The EU Delegation’s head in Bucharest, Jonathan Scheele, said, “I am as surprised as anyone by the president’s last decision!”

In June 2005, Miron Cozma was freed from prison on the basis of Ion Iliescu’s pardon but he was taken back into custody. The official statement said he was being detained in connection to crimes he committed while in prison.

The legality of the pardon decree is still under scrutiny.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Moldovan President Praises Russia, Accuses Romania Of 'Revisionism'

June 24, 2009

CHISINAU -- Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has told journalists that his country would not lift visa requirements for citizens of Romania, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

At a press conference in Chisinau, Voronin said Moldova would lift visa requirements for Romanian citizens only after the European Union, of which Romania is a member, does so for Moldovans.

In April, Chisinau imposed a visa requirement for Romanian citizens and expelled the Romanian ambassador in the wake of mass protests in Moldova against the results of the country's parliamentary elections.

According to Voronin, Romania orchestrated the disorder.

Voronin also praised Russia for its readiness to provide Moldova with a $500 million loan, and blamed the International Monetary Fund for its failure to help Moldova cope with the effects of the global economic downturn.

Romania Has Six Months for Action to Narrow Budget Gap, EU Says

By Adam Brown

June 24 (Bloomberg) -- Romania must take measures to narrow its budget deficit within six months or face action for violating European Union deficit limits, the EU’s executive arm said.

The government must also narrow the budget gap within a year to a maximum of 3 percent of gross domestic product, from a deficit of 5.4 percent of GDP last year, the European Commission said in an e-mailed report today.

“There are risks concerning the effective implementation of planned expenditure measures in 2009,” the commission said. “Achievement of the budgetary targets needs to be underpinned by concrete measures.”

Most east European nations are in recession as the global financial crisis curbs exports and shuts off capital flows. Romania’s government says its economic slowdown is shrinking state revenue while pressuring the government to increase expenditures on infrastructure investments and social areas.

Romania agreed last month to an international loan package led by the International Monetary Fund and the EU of 20 billion euros ($28 billion) to help finance its current-account and budget deficits and slow the economic contraction.

As a condition of the IMF-led loan, the government must target a budget deficit of 5.1 percent of GDP this year. The average gap of the 16 nations using the euro will swell to 6.5 percent of GDP next year from 5.3 percent this year and 1.9 percent last year, the commission forecast last month.

Romania’s economy plunged an annual 6.2 percent in the first quarter as consumer demand plunged 13.7 percent, driven by slowing lending and wage growth while economic woes in the country’s key trading partners in western Europe curbed exports.

The government announced in May it will freeze state wages this year after raising them by an average 20 percent last year to help meet the deficit target. It also plans to raise some taxes and lower spending in many ministries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

EU Gives Hungary, Romania, Lithuania to 2011 to Control Budgets

By Adam Brown

June 24 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union gave Romania, Hungary and Lithuania until 2011 to rein in their budget deficits as recessions sparked by the global financial crisis slash tax revenue throughout eastern Europe.

Poland should also narrow its budget gap by 2012 and the deficits of Slovakia and Slovenia, the only countries in the region to have adopted the euro, will probably exceed their targets this year, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said in a report today.

Most countries in the region are in recession as the crisis curbs exports and shuts off capital flows from their partners in the West, cutting tax revenue and pressuring governments to spend to jumpstart economic growth and lay out more on social benefits as unemployment rises.

“National budgetary positions in the EU and elsewhere have deteriorated considerably in the last year and will deteriorate even more this year,” Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in the report. “It is crucial that governments devise an adjustment path.”

The economic crisis in eastern Europe has prompted several countries, including Romania, Hungary, and Latvia to agree to international financing packages led by the International Monetary Fund to finance budget and current account shortfalls.

Crisis Effects

Economies in all but one of the 27 EU members will contract this year as the global crisis curbs investment and unemployment cuts consumer spending, the commission forecasts. It said the average budget deficit of the 16 nations using the euro will swell to 6.5 percent of gross domestic product next year from 5.3 percent this year and 1.9 percent last year.

Romania will probably post a budget deficit of 5.1 percent of gross domestic product this year while Hungary will probably register a gap of 3.9 percent and Lithuania’s deficit may widen to 5.4 percent of GDP this year and 8 percent next year, the commission report predicted.

Those three countries will have six months, starting in July, to outline and enact the measures they plan to take to narrow their budget deficits, the commission said today.

The commission also urged Poland to narrow its budget deficit to a maximum of 3 percent of GDP by 2012, from a gap of 3.9 percent of GDP last year. Slovenia and Slovakia, the only countries in eastern Europe to have adopted the euro since a wave of EU expansion in 2004, were also warned to control spending and income to rein in their deficits.

Euro Adoption

The wider deficits may affect the countries’ plans to adopt the euro in coming years. To adopt the common currency, the country must lower its general government deficit below 3 percent of GDP and keep its public debt below 60 percent of GDP.

The commission said Slovenia’s 2009 budget-deficit target of 5.1 percent of gross domestic product is subject to downside risk because it is based on an optimistic economic-growth forecast. Slovakia’s goals of having shortfalls amounting to 3 percent of GDP in 2009 and 2.9 percent of GDP in 2010 have a “clearly negative” risk.

Bulgaria was the only eastern European nation to register a budget surplus last year, of 1.5 percent of GDP, although the commission forecasts it will post a deficit of 0.5 percent of GDP last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

In Romania, Legal Status of “Dream Shops” Remains Ambiguous

By Mihut Savu
Epoch Times Staff

GALATI, Romania—For more than a year now more and more “dream shops,” (also called “weed shops”) have been popping up in Romania, especially in the city of Galati. Their legal status remains ambiguous.

They sell weed—as in, the regular plants—for smoking, or in the form of pills. It is regarded as an attempt to present a legal alternative to marijuana and ecstasy. The pills are labeled “legal ecstasy,” and are presented by retailers as “psychoactive, relaxant, and euphoric.”
Products are made from a mixture of plants, many of them common, such as sage. Some of the ingredients can even be found on the side of the street (sage, for example, is often cultivated as a medicinal and decorative plant).

While teenagers using the products consider them “cool,” there also appear to be significant downsides . Customers on the company's website leave comments describing the substances as both “hardcore” and legal, but also explaining that the next day it leaves the user “completely sick” and “wasted.” Side effects are not mentioned by the sellers, but there is a warning that used in excess, the products can be toxic and provoke dizziness, stupor and muscle spasms.

An additional warning about the products can also be found on one of the dream shop's websites: “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”.

The Romanian Health Ministry and the Office for Consumer Protection has already begun to investigate the shops, and enacted a series of on-site controls. They concluded that present-day laws can't take them off the market.

The Minister for Health, Ion Bazac, said that they discussed the issue with the company in London, where it is registered. The same problem seems to exist there, too. In the end it is the European Union that will have to decide the legal status of the products. “The lack of control for the selling of packaged sage does not seem normal to me,” said Bazac.

While a complete ban is not yet possible for the authorities, a series of fines were still given out in Romania, for “selling euphoric and hallucinogenic substances.”

NI Romanians face uncertain future

By Petru Clej
BBC News

Up to 100 members of Romania's Roma community who fled their homes in Belfast after attacks and intimidation have begun returning to Romania - and an uncertain future.

As they trickled in small groups towards their destination in western Romania, the media in their home country reflected on their fate in an unusually sympathetic manner.

They were called "Romanians" by most media outlets, as opposed to "Roma" or even "Gypsies" - a reference to their ethnicity which is often used to distinguish them from the Romanian majority.

"Romanians take refuge in a church after being attacked by extremists", "The church which shelters Romanians is vandalised" and "One hundred Romanians determined to return home", are just a few of the headlines on Romanian media websites.

One newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei , published a special report called "The extremists' neighbourhood" in which aggressive youngsters from a Belfast housing estate hinted that attacks were bound to reoccur.

They are going back to a hole. Local authorities have no power to integrate them and central government has run out of money for this
Vasile Ionescu Romanothan

But if Romanian journalists displayed sympathy, some of their readers voiced prejudices against the Roma minority - under the anonymity of the internet.

Many objected to the Belfast migrants being called Romanians, and others congratulated those who intimidated the immigrants into leaving Belfast.

"The Irish have won a battle; the Romanians have lost. Congratulations, they did the cleaning," reads one website posting.

"From a Romanian curse, the [Roma] have become a European curse" said another.

But most Romanians have shown little interest in this story.

Andrei Badin, a leading TV talk show host and author of a well known internet blog, said it was unfortunate civic sense in Romania was "much lower" than in developed countries.

He said: "I would like to pay tribute to the Northern Irish people who showed solidarity with the Roma hunted by a fascist group.

"Regrettably, Romanians show little solidarity towards their compatriots, irrespective of their ethnic group."

The president of Roma community group Romanothan, Vasile Ionescu, noticed the change in tone of the Romanian press, but still considers the reaction of the authorities to be ambiguous.

The Romanian ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, has travelled to Belfast to meet with the Romanians and the Northern Ireland authorities.

But Mr Ionescu said the Romanian state had no strategy of integrating the Roma, which officially numbered 535,000 - about 2.5% of the population - but was thought to total over a million.

Many members of the Roma community are poorly educated - UN figures quoted by the Open Society Institute indicate that in 2005, 94% of the general Romanian population was in primary education (7 - 15), compared to 76% Roma, 69% in secondary education (16 -19) 17% Roma and 5% in tertiary education (1% Roma).

As a result, increasing numbers of Roma end up in other EU countries in search of a better life.

In places like the UK they discover that although they are allowed to stay legally, they are not entitled to work.

A lack of education, and not being able to speak English, can limit job prospects for some Roma migrants, leaving them no choice but to work in the black market.

Hostility towards the Romanian Roma in the UK has been far less noticeable than in other EU countries.

In 2007, the murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian Roma man in Italy created deep tensions in a country where over half a million Romanians live and work.

So what is in store for the 100 Romanian Roma, as they make their way home? There is not much to cheer about, says Mr Ionescu, who believes their European citizenship is mostly on paper.

"They are going back to a hole. Local authorities have no power to integrate them and central government has run out of money for this," he said.

"I'm afraid without European pressure nothing will be done. We need a European Roma Agency. We are chasing the Roma from one country to another and in Romania their situation has worsened after 20 years of democracy."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Bulgaria, Romania to Construct Only Yacht Port on Danube River

Sofia News Agency

The first yacht port on the Danube River will be constructed as a result of a trans-border cooperation project between Bulgarian and Romanian local authorities.

The yacht port complex will be erected next to the Bulgarian village of Baykal, the Standart Daily reported. The initiative is a joint project of Bulgaria's Dolna Mitropoliya Municipality, and the Romanian town of Corabia.

The yacht complex is going to include a hotel, and the local authorities hope that it would be able to attract tourists from all Danube countries.The respective Bulgarian and Romanian local authorities hope to turn the whole central Danube region into a more tourist friendly area by turning the ancient Roman town of Oescus (north of Bulgaria's Pleven) into a tourist attraction.

The two Danube islands with a total area of 400 hectares opposite the village of Baykal are deemed suitable for developing hunting and fishing tourism.

Romania Jan-May New Car Sales Fall 49% On Year

BUCHAREST (Dow Jones)--Romanian new car sales slumped 49.2% on the year to 57,894 units in January-May, news agency Mediafax reported, citing data provided Tuesday by the Automotive Manufacturers and Importers Association, or APIA.

In January-May 2008, new car sales stood at 114,020 units.

In May alone, car sales fell 43.1% on the year to 13,336 units, APIA said.

Romania's overall auto market (including cars, commercial vehicles and buses) was down 53.4% on the year to 65,094 units in January-May.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

EU to give Romania euro1.5 bln loan in July

Associated Press, 06/23/2009

BRUSSELS -- The European Union said Tuesday it will next month pay Romania euro1.5 billion in the first part of a bailout package after the country agreed to curb public spending and make financial reforms.

EU nations have promised Romania a euro5 billion loan as part of a euro20 billion bailout led by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The EU's executive commission said Romania has now agreed terms for the payment that call on the government to do more to balance its books, reform its economy and introduce new financial sector rules and oversight.

The EU will raise the money for the seven-year loan by selling bonds and will hand over the money in five installments. It has already given Hungary and Latvia euro9.6 billion in similar bailouts from a crisis fund for the 11 member nations that don't use the euro.

EU officials forecast that Romania's economy will contract by 4 percent this year and not grow at all next year.

Romanians leave NI after attacks

One hundred Romanians who fled their homes after a spate of recent attacks have decided to leave Northern Ireland.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said 25 people have already left and a further 75 were going to leave as soon as they could.

Mrs Ritchie said just 14 people had decided to stay in the country.

The minister was speaking after City Church, which last week provided shelter for the ethnic Roma people, was damaged in an overnight attack.

The families have since been moved to temporary accommodation at a secret location.

Pastor Malcolm Morgan said the church was covered in broken glass.

"I arrived this morning to find windows smashed at the front of our church and our main glass doorway smashed as well," he said.

"Stones were lying scattered on the floor inside and outside and obviously broken glass was everywhere.

"It would be easy to conclude it was carried out by someone who didn't like our response to the Romanians, but that is only guess work.

"We were just so thrilled that we were able to respond to the Romanian situation and these broken windows wouldn't have stopped us anyway."

Mrs Ritchie said she was saddened, but not shocked at the incident.

"The action of these mindless thugs greatly contrasts with the outpouring of warmth and generosity demonstrated by the people of Belfast toward the plight of the Romanians," she said.

"This church community was the first to extend the hand of friendship and that makes it doubly disgraceful that it should be attacked."

Police have said they have yet to establish a motive for the attack.

A 15-year-old boy appeared in court on Monday charged with the intimidation of Romanians living on Belgravia Avenue in south Belfast

He was also accused, along with a 16-year-old boy, of provocative behaviour at an anti-racism rally in the city.

A 21-year-old man who was also arrested in connection with the intimidation is due to appear in court later on Tuesday.

Police do not believe paramilitaries were involved in last week's attacks, which were condemned by all political parties.

Monday, June 22, 2009

U.S. soldiers team up with Romanian troops for Afghan mission

By Mark Abramson, Stars and Stripes

HOHENFELS, Germany — When it comes to getting ready for the fight in Afghanistan, the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment does things a little bit differently than other U.S. Army units.

The unit is preparing to send a company in the late summer to Zabul province, but unlike other Army units, they won’t be part of a U.S. battalion. The 1-4 attaches to a Romanian army battalion when it deploys.

The unit also deploys for six to eight months, rather than the 12-month stints most units are accustomed to. But the 1-4 always has a unit rotated into Afghanistan, said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hartfield.

"To me, working with a foreign unit, once you learn each other, it is a lot easier," Hartfield said.

"It does paint a good picture of what they are capable of," Capt. Kyle Wheeler, the commander of the 1-4’s Company A, said about the joint training.

When 1-4 soldiers aren’t in Afghanistan or training to go there, they are simulating the Taliban or other insurgents to train American and allied countries’ forces.

To gear up for this coming deployment, the 1-4 has been training with their Romanian counterparts at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels. And earlier this year soldiers from the unit went to train in Cincu, Romania.

The troops are now at Hohenfels for a mission rehearsal, Hohenfels spokesman Maj. Sean Fisher said.

"It’s about building a team early," Fisher said. The Romanians are proficient in English, he said.

The joint U.S.-Romanian force’s mission in Afghanistan will be to keep Highway 1, a vital roadway, secure to keep military supplies and units flowing to where they need to be, Fisher said.

The joint arrangement with the 1-4 helps to tip the fight in NATO forces’ favor, said Romanian army Capt. Cimpeanu Rares. Rares is one of the officers who will be coordinating and planning missions with the 1-4 from the Tactical Operations Center in Afghanistan. He is part of the Romanian Army’s 280th Infantry Battalion based in Focsani, Romania.

"We got things to learn from them. They try to understand the way we work and our procedures," Rares said.

The upcoming deployment will be the second time that U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Rivera has worked with the Romanians. This time he will be working with them in the TOC.

He said the units won’t conduct joint patrols, but can work together in the field, for example, by having a Romanian mortar unit support U.S. forces if needed. Soldiers said that during training the Romanian unit proved to be highly skilled mortar men.

"The biggest thing for me was knowing that if I needed mortar support from the Romanian mortar team is it would be there and it would be accurate," Hartfield said.