Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Forget austerity: Romanians fixate on the IMF shoe

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — In Romania this week, it's all about the shoe.

Romania has borrowed billions from the International Monetary Fund but some are wondering whether IMF envoy Jeffrey Franks needs a loan himself after he was seen wearing shoes with a hole on a visit with President Traian Basescu.

The image on Saturday has eclipsed any of Franks' comments about public spending, layoffs or inflation in the Balkan nation. Mysteriously, the photo of the shoe also disappeared Tuesday from its previous location on the presidential website.

No matter, the shoe kept dominating the news.

"There is no excuse to go to the president of a country with torn shoes," popular television commentator Mircea Badea said.

Franks was asked to comment on the shoe Monday at a news conference on the Romanian economy.

"I prefer to talk about Romania, not personal matters," he said, but added "I changed my shoes today."

Style-conscious Romanians were still not satisfied with his footwear, with Realitatea TV noting that Franks was wearing a black suit with brown moccasins that had seen better days.

"And look what kind of watch he has, it's one of those 10-euro electronic ones," Badea noted.

Cobbler Stefan Filipas from the western city of Arad then stepped into the debate.

"I am sure Jeffrey Franks wears those shoes because they are comfortable not because he can't afford a new pair," Filipas told the Glasul Aradului online paper Tuesday. "I will repair them or send him a new pair crafted from Romanian materials, so he has something to remember Romania by, like we remember him."

The shoe also gave locals a good opportunity to criticize the IMF, which has urged Romania to take tougher austerity measures to trim its budget deficit to 4.4 percent this year. Franks was in Romania after the IMF and the European Union approved an extra €5 billion ($7.25 billion) precautionary loan.

"The boy with a hole in his shoe from the IMF who comes to give us lessons about how to manage the economy has avoided speaking about the real problems that we'll face this year," the daily Jurnalul National wrote Tuesday.

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