Thursday, May 5, 2011

AP: Romanians stunned that US defence shield to be built near remote town

BUCHAREST, Romania - Romanians reacted with a mixture of disbelief and humour Wednesday after their president announced that a base in rural Romania would become a U.S. missile defence site.

Deveselu, a small town in Romania's deep south, has gone from anonymity to the core of the U.S. defence system in Europe overnight.

Government officials were apparently unaware of the decision and there was not even a whisper in the Romanian press until the President Traian Basescu's announcement Tuesday night. Local officials weren't informed, or asked for their approval, until the night before.

"Anti-missile shield from the cow's tail," ran a headline in daily Adevarul on Wednesday, reflecting general disbelief and describing the rural nature of the area. The fact that Deveselu sounds like the Romanian word for happy has added to the mirth.

One person cheered by the announcement was Deveselu mayor Gheorghe Beciu, who predicted that the arrival of hundreds of U.S. troops at the base would mean eligible bachelors for local girls and a boost for the underdeveloped economy. He ruefully added that he only had sons.

Basescu insisted the agreement had serious benefits and would give Romania "the highest security level in its history."

Former President Ion Iliescu disagreed, saying "I'd be very surprised. I don't think we need this at the moment."

U.S. undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, who is visiting Romania, said Wednesday that Russia should not be alarmed by the announcement, after Moscow sharply criticized the Romanian decision.

An estimated $400 million (€270 million) will be invested in the base, which will become operational in 2015. Located 125 miles (200 kilometres) southwest of Bucharest, the base was built with Soviet help in 1952 in an area known for watermelon and corn.

There was also some pride after the announcement.

"Deveselu, the village that is defending Europe," wrote the pro-government daily Romania Libera.

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