Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ford to halt Romania production on weak European demand

Oct 29 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co. will halt car production at its Romanian factory for 13 days in November, its third straight month of stoppages at the plant in response to weak European demand, the U.S. carmaker said on Tuesday.

Ford, which took over struggling carmaker Automobile Craiova in 2008, began production of its B-Max model there last year. It now produces roughly 370 cars a day as well as 1,000 engines for several models.

"We will stop car production for 13 days and engine production for eight days in November," said Ford Romania spokeswoman Ana-Maria Timis.

"The eight-day stoppage in engine production is caused by low demand for vehicles and overlaps with the period of suspension of car production."

In September and October, Ford had stopped only car output.

Ford Romania employs about 4,000 people, almost all of whom will be affected by the production halt. They will receive 80 percent of their wages during the stoppage.

Ford boosted its full-year global profit forecast last week as the European picture brightened and stronger overseas demand led to better than expected third-quarter results.

Romanian farmers choose subsistence over shale gas

Luiza Ilie

PUNGESTI, Romania (Reuters) - The small hilly town of Pungesti in eastern Romania could be sitting on vast reserves of shale gas and U.S. energy major Chevron wants to find it.

But the people of Pungesti want nothing to do with it.

Though most of them live off subsistence farming, social aid and cash from relatives working abroad, they would rather stay poor than run what they say is the risk of ruining their environment.

Villagers have set up camp outside the empty lot where Chevron aims to install its first exploratory well, blocking access and forcing the company to announce last week it was suspending work.

"Our kitchens are filled with homemade jams and preserves, sacks of nuts, crates of honey and cheese, all produced by us," said Doina Dediu, 47, a local and one of the protesters.

"We are not even that poor," she said. "Maybe we don't have money, but we have clean water and we are healthy and we just want to be left alone."

The decision to stop work at Pungesti - which was to have been Romania's first shale gas exploration well - matters because of the message it may send about how welcome shale gas is in eastern Europe.

Large parts of wealthier western Europe have shunned shale gas exploration because of fears about possible water pollution and seismic activity from the hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" process used to release it.

The industry says the risks can be avoided.

While Britain decided this year to support shale gas exploration, France has a total ban citing ecological concerns and Germany is reviewing its position on shale.

In poorer, ex-Communist parts of the continent the need to bring in tax revenues, cheaper fuel supplies and jobs has shown signs of trumping the concerns, but to what extent is not yet clear.

GROUNDED IN SCIENCE

Chevron, which has all the necessary permits for the exploration well at Pungesti, says it adheres to the highest safety standards.

The exploration phase would last around five years and not involve fracking, the process whereby large amounts of water mixed with chemicals is forced into rock formations under high pressure to crack them apart and release natural gas.

Company executives met Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Monday while he was making a scheduled visit to Washington.

"Emphasis was placed on continuing activities responsibly and safely for the environment, while at the same time giving communities the chance to have a conversation grounded in scientific data," Chevron said in a statement.

Asked to comment on local concerns, the company said it tests groundwater before and after drilling to make sure it is not affected, carries out geological seismic surveys and keeps the community informed at every stage.

In a detailed statement, it pointed to the widespread use of fracking in the United States and elsewhere and said it "is a proven technology that has been used safely for more than 60 years".

But it is struggling to convince the people of Pungesti.

Three public meetings held over the summer with Chevron and environment agency officials turned into shouting matches. Deputy mayor Vasile Voina says he believes people "were not sufficiently informed".

Sprawled along a bumpy road, the town of 3,420 people is made of eight villages with narrow houses behind short, chipped picket fences, fat orange pumpkins dotting small plots of land and apples drying in the sun behind window panes. It does not have central heating or a mains water supply.

Even in this remote town, 340 km (210 miles) northeast of the Romanian capital Bucharest, the global debate about the impact of "fracking" has permeated.

Several people said they had gone on YouTube to watch excerpts of the 2010 U.S. documentary "Gasland," which purported to show the environmental damage caused by shale gas production.

The energy industry disputes allegations made in the film, but it, and other sources, including activists and local clergy, have influenced opinion in Pungesti.

People say heavy equipment will ruin their roads. They fear fracking will cause earthquakes and pollute their water, risking their health, their cattle and their vegetable gardens.

"If they put wells they will destroy farming," said Andrei Popescu, 22.

Prime minister Ponta has spoken of potential shale benefits, especially for a poor area like Vaslui county, which includes Pungesti. It receives heavy subsidies from the state.

"Without investment, we can't pay wages and pensions. Projects can be improved ... but we cannot block investment," Ponta has said. He toppled a previous government in May 2012 partially on an anti-shale message but his government has since thrown his support behind the project.

Chevron said studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ground Water Protection Council had confirmed no direct link between hydraulic fracturing operations and groundwater contamination.

It says direct benefits include jobs and payments to contractors and suppliers and, during the production phase, taxes and royalties.

Some local people say they doubt the project would generate many jobs, or that they are qualified for them. If there is to be progress and investment, they say they would prefer a vegetable processing plant, abattoir or wind energy park.

"They could do anything else, why settle on underground gas," said Daniel Ciobanu, a 40-year-old farmer.

CAMPAIGNING PRIEST

For all the concerns in Pungesti, many people in eastern Europe welcome shale gas. Governments in Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Ukraine are all keen to encourage exploration, although in Bulgaria it is banned.

In Poland, the industry's biggest shale gas hope in mainland Europe, exploration drilling is underway on several concessions. The country, with a history of conflict with Moscow, sees shale gas as a way of reducing dependence on Russian gas imports.

Yet even in Poland, some local people, backed by environmental campaigners, have staged protests. At one of Chevron's Polish shale gas concessions, near the village of Zurawlow, local people occupied a work site when contractors started trying to erect a fence.

Around 800 locals, neighbors, activists and the clergy gathered for a protest next to Chevron's concession in Pungesti last week. In sunny but icy weather, they carried banners that read Stop Chevron, Resist and God is with us.

Clad in his black habit, Father Vasile Laiu, an Orthodox priest from the nearby city of Barlad and one of the most outspoken local opponents of fracking, asked people to kneel, then led them in prayer.

Up to 50 villagers that have been taking turns staging a round-the-clock vigil, blocking access to the lot, said they were preparing for a long haul. They have pitched tents and dug a lavatory pit.

"Can we live without water?" one of them asked the crowd on a microphone. The air carried faint smells of incense.

"No," the demonstrators replied.

"Can we live without Chevron?"

"Yes."

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Tsvetelia Tslova in Sofia; editing by Christian Lowe and Philippa Fletcher)

AP: Ethnic Hungarians march for autonomy in Romania

Ethnic Hungarians are demanding autonomy in Romanian communities. Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until after World War I, when the ethnic Romanian majority created their own country.

About 10,000 people held protests on Sunday in Hungary and Romania to demand autonomy for the 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians living in Romania.

The marches - with people singing, waving Hungarian flags, and riding horses and carriages - happened in communities of Transylvania, including the town of Targu Secuiesc.

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania organized the marches. In Hungary, thousands took part in demonstrations in Budapest and other cities to show solidarity.

Hungarians compose about 6 percent of Romania's population. Their leader, Kelemen Hunor, told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday that they want territorial autonomy to maintain their ethnic identity and grow economically.

Romanian politicians have opposed granting the minority that status.

Thousands march in Romania against shale gas, gold mine

(AFP)

Bucharest — Thousands of Romanians rallied on Sunday against a controversial Canadian gold mine project and against shale gas exploration, in weekly demos that have turned into one of the country's longest-running protests in years.

In Bucharest, some 2,500 people marched on the government's offices, chanting "Resign!, an AFP reporter saw.

The protest marked the ninth consecutive Sunday that Romanians have taken to the streets to voice their anger over the mine planned by Canada's Gabriel Resources, a project seen as harmful to the environment.

The mine, to be based in the heart of Transylvania, would be Europe's largest opencast gold mine.

Gabriel Resources hopes to extract 300 tonnes of gold with mining techniques requiring the use of thousands of tonnes of cyanide.

"We want tourism, not cyanide", protesters chanted.

The demonstrators said they were also protesting against plans by US energy giant Chevron to dig for shale gas in eastern Romania using the controversial "fracking" technique they fear might contaminate ground water.

The marchers accused Prime Minister Victor Ponta's administration of betraying his election promises by backing shale gas exploration and the planned mine, despite opposing these projects while in opposition.

Some 1,500 people also took part in protests in the northwestern city of Cluj, while another 500 took to the streets in the village of Rosia Montana, also in the northwest, where the mine is to be based.

AFP: Fifty charged in Romania mass tax evasion probe

Fifty people suspected of having set up a vast tax evasion network that defrauded the Romanian state of tens of millions of euros were charged in Bucharest Monday, anti-graft prosecutors said.

Fifty million euros ($69 million) were defrauded from the state.

The charges come as Romanian government recently admitted that tax revenues in the 2013 budget were lower than expected.

Prosecutors said a network of more than a hundred Romanian and foreign firms dealing with meat products "set up a complex network" to avoid paying tax on profits or value added tax (VAT).

State officials were complicit in the fraud, prosecutors said.

Social democrat senator Nicolae Badalau was charged with influence peddling in the case and a top prosecutor arrested.

Romanian authorities have repeatedly pledged to crack down on tax evasion but investigations have shown frequent cases of complicity between tax inspectors and dodgers.

Last year, the former head of the tax administration, Sorin Blejnar, was charged with "complicity in tax evasion".

Construction starts on US base in Romania

DEVESELU, Romania (AP) — Construction has begun on a U.S. base in Romania that will form part of a ballistic missile defense system that has angered Russia.

The Deveselu base in southern Romania is expected to be operational in 2015. It will house SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar equipment.

James Miller, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, attended a ceremony Monday at the base.

He said that "as the (NATO) Alliance has entered new times, it has also addressed new threats. One of these is the threat of ballistic missile attack."

The U.S. government says the missiles will have no offensive capability and will only target incoming ballistic missiles launched by a hostile country.

Russia considers the interceptors a threat and has cited them in blocking cooperation on nuclear arms reductions and other issues.

US, NATO move ahead with Romanian anti-missile base

By John Vandiver
Stars and Stripes

October 28, 2013


STUTTGART, Germany — Construction is now underway at a new anti-missile base in southern Romania, signaling that U.S. and NATO missile defense plans for Europe will press forward even as defense budgets shrink on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S., Romanian and NATO officials attended aground-breaking ceremony Monday in Deveselu, a rural town that will eventually host about 200 U.S. sailors.

Among those attending the ceremony were U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James N. Miller, Romanian President Traian Basescu and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.

While U.S. officials have insisted the missile defense program is directed at threats from the Middle East, such as Iran, Russia has been a vocal opponent of the program. Moscow suspects that missile defense initiatives are aimed at countering Russian missiles, and its diplomats have argued that a NATO missile shield doesn’t make sense since Iran doesn’t have rockets capable of threatening western Europe.

“This facility will be an important part of NATO’s overall missile defenses in Europe,” Vershbow said in a NATO news release. “This facility will not threaten anyone, but bring better protection for the people, the forces and the territory of the allied countries in Europe.”

In Romania, the U.S. is expected to invest millions of dollars as part of an overall plan to establish a ground-based radar system and anti-missile interceptors in the country by 2015. In July, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District awarded a $134 million construction contract to Kellogg, Brown & Root Services that encompasses all aspects of the Aegis Ashore facility, including construction of the foundations for the Standard Missile-3 launchers and a host of operational support facilities.

An additional contract focused on U.S. Navy support facilities is to be announced in early 2014.

When the administration of President Barack Obama announced plans for the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in 2009, the plan initially focused on four phases of development. The first involved the deployment of the sea-based Aegis weapon system in the Mediterranean. Phase two called for the establishment of a similar land-based system in Romania by 2015.

Phases three and four called for the development of weapons systems capable of countering intermediate range missiles, with stage four potentially countering inter-continental threats aimed at the U.S.

In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would scrap the final phase, which called for the placement of long-range interceptors in Poland.

However, the U.S. remains committed to the first three phases of the plan, which is expected to be in place by 2018, according to NATO.

US, NATO move ahead with Romanian anti-missile base

By John Vandiver
Stars and Stripes

October 28, 2013


STUTTGART, Germany — Construction is now underway at a new anti-missile base in southern Romania, signaling that U.S. and NATO missile defense plans for Europe will press forward even as defense budgets shrink on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S., Romanian and NATO officials attended aground-breaking ceremony Monday in Deveselu, a rural town that will eventually host about 200 U.S. sailors.

Among those attending the ceremony were U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James N. Miller, Romanian President Traian Basescu and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.

While U.S. officials have insisted the missile defense program is directed at threats from the Middle East, such as Iran, Russia has been a vocal opponent of the program. Moscow suspects that missile defense initiatives are aimed at countering Russian missiles, and its diplomats have argued that a NATO missile shield doesn’t make sense since Iran doesn’t have rockets capable of threatening western Europe.

“This facility will be an important part of NATO’s overall missile defenses in Europe,” Vershbow said in a NATO news release. “This facility will not threaten anyone, but bring better protection for the people, the forces and the territory of the allied countries in Europe.”

In Romania, the U.S. is expected to invest millions of dollars as part of an overall plan to establish a ground-based radar system and anti-missile interceptors in the country by 2015. In July, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District awarded a $134 million construction contract to Kellogg, Brown & Root Services that encompasses all aspects of the Aegis Ashore facility, including construction of the foundations for the Standard Missile-3 launchers and a host of operational support facilities.

An additional contract focused on U.S. Navy support facilities is to be announced in early 2014.

When the administration of President Barack Obama announced plans for the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in 2009, the plan initially focused on four phases of development. The first involved the deployment of the sea-based Aegis weapon system in the Mediterranean. Phase two called for the establishment of a similar land-based system in Romania by 2015.

Phases three and four called for the development of weapons systems capable of countering intermediate range missiles, with stage four potentially countering inter-continental threats aimed at the U.S.

In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would scrap the final phase, which called for the placement of long-range interceptors in Poland.

However, the U.S. remains committed to the first three phases of the plan, which is expected to be in place by 2018, according to NATO.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Romania threatens to block Canada-EU trade deal

BY VALENTINA POP
http://euobserver.com

BERLIN - Romania has threatened not to ratify a recently signed EU-Canada free trade deal unless Ottawa lifts visa requirements for Romanians.

"I do not believe the Romanian parliament will ratify the EU-Canada free trade agreement without the Canadian authorities first adopting fair measures concerning the freedom of movement of Romanian citizens," Romanian foreign minister Titus Corlatean said on Thursday (24 October) during a visit to Washington.

He added that Romania is merely demanding the same treatment as the Czech republic, for whom visa requirements will be lifted in the coming days.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the Czech promise when signing the EU-Canada free trade agreement in Brussels last week.

The Canada trade deal, seen as a template for the bigger, yet-to-be-concluded EU-US agreement, cannot come into force until the European Parliament and all 28 EU parliaments as well as the Canadian legislature have ratified it.

The agreement is estimated to come into force not earlier than 2015, at best.

Prague has already signalled it may withhold ratification, if the visa-free promise does not materialise.

Unlike Romania and Bulgaria, which always needed visas for Canada, the Czech republic had a visa-free regime from 2007 until 2009, when Ottawa decided to reintroduce visas due to the large number of Roma asylum seekers coming from the Czech side.

But "positive developments" in the number of Czech visa applications led the government to change its mind again.

As for Romania, Canadian trade minister Ed Fast last week said: "We are showing great importance to our relations with countries like Romania and Bulgaria and we are confident of being able to fix the situation in the short or medium term."

Meanwhile, the EU's ambassador to Canada, Marie-Anne Coninsx, has suggested that parts of the agreement could be implemented earlier, circumventing the national ratification process.

“We are counting that the real entry into force might be 2015, but it’s not excluded - and that we are verifying too - that a provisional entry into force of some of the parts might be possible,” she told Globe and Mail newspaper.

The ambassador did not specify which parts of the deal could be enacted early.

But she said the European Parliament might be able to approve those sections of the agreement that fall under its exclusive jurisdiction.

The remaining sections, which cover member-state-level policy, could come into force later, once all 28 states have ratified the deal, she noted.

The Yes man: Romanian MEP who ‘has not voted against anything in previous 541 motions’ is accused of not caring

http://www.independent.co.uk


German newspaper investigation reveals member of assembly who agrees with all the European Parliament’s
proposals

A Romanian MEP has been accused of simply not caring after it was revealed that he has not voted against any of the last 541 proposals put to the European Parliament.

According to an investigation by the German weekly Der Spiegel, Dumitru Zamfirescu often votes “yes” to two or more motions which directly contradict each other, and sometimes doesn’t even bother to have the list explaining the details of each vote in front of him.

The newspaper said Zamfirescu recently hit a run of 63 “yes” votes in a row – at other times he just abstains – on the highly controversial issue of a new set of tobacco regulations. He reportedly agreed that warning labelling should cover both 50 and 65 per cent of cigarette packs, and that the tobacco companies should both get to choose where they go and be forced to put them on the lower part of the package.

According to the MEP who sits next to Zamfirescu in the assembly, these most recent “decisions” are just an indicator of the extent to which the independent Romanian representative isn’t all that bothered.

Austrian member Martin Ehrenhauser is known for uncovering a number of alleged abuses in the EU, and told Der Spiegel that his colleague’s voting habits are a “completely unnecessary contribution to political apathy”.

“At times he has absolutely no voting documents in front of him,” Ehrenhauser said – without which it is impossible to even know what a vote is on, because they are only identified by a reference number.

“Anyone who votes this randomly and unethically is failing to take his responsibilities seriously as an elected politician.

MEPs get paid a monthly salary of about €8,000 (£6,800), but receive extra bonuses for attending Parliament and more money still if they vote on at least 50 per cent of the day’s motions.

All electronic votes are recorded on the website www.votewatch.eu – which shows that Zamfirescu has only missed 18 out of 1298 votes in the full Parliament.

Ehrenhauser added that the Romanian’s “yes” record probably extends even further, as votes by raised hand are not recorded – and Zamfirescu’s hand is nearly always up.

Der Spiegel described the 59-year-old MEP as an ultra-nationalist former member of the far-right Greater Romania Party – once led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a man who campaigned for mass executions in football stadia and the introduction of labour camps.

And Ehrenhauser said he only decided not to bring up Zamfirescu’s questionable habits in Parliament because it is probably for the best that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Zamfirescu told the German newspaper he could remember the last time he voted “no”, but said: “I vote ‘yes’ because I agree with all the proposals.”

Romania: ex-prison commander charged with genocide

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A former commander of a communist labor camp in Romania was charged with genocide for his alleged role in the deaths of 103 political prisoners, prosecutors said Thursday.

Ion Ficior, 85, was deputy commander, then commander of the Periprava labor camp from 1958 to 1963. The camp in the remote Danube Delta village near the Black Sea held up to 2,000 prisoners.

Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, according to historians, who say most prisoners were simply people who had fallen afoul of the Communist regime.

Ficior's role was brought to light by a Romanian institute that investigates communist-era crimes, who said that prisoners in the Periprava camp died from malnutrition, beatings, lack of medicine and from dysentery caused by drinking dirty water from the Danube.

The general prosecutors' office said Ficior "introduced and coordinated a repressive detention regime, which was abusive, inhuman," and that targeted political prisoners. They said 103 prisoners died while Ficior was in charge.

Ficior declined to speak to reporters after he was charged Thursday, but had told The Associated Press in an interview in June that only three or four died while he ran the camp. In the interview, he was unrepentant, and said his former prisoners were Nazi supporters during World War II who deserved to be incarcerated.

Ficior is the second former prison commander in Romania to be charged with genocide. On Sept. 3, prosecutors charged 87-year-old Alexandru Visinescu for his leadership of the Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963, where Romania's elite were incarcerated.

Andrei Muraru, head of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, said Ficior and Visinescu can't be imprisoned in Romania because of their age.

"But the fact that they (can get) a conviction for what they did 50 years ago ... is very important in a democratic society," Muraru said.

In September, investigators dug up five skeletons from unmarked graves near Periprava. There were no coffins, clothes or personal possessions next to the bodies.

About 3,500 former Romanian political prisoners from the 1950s and 1960s are still alive, down from 40,000 who were alive when communism was overthrown in 1989.

Romanian who admitted Dutch art heist to get reduced sentence

BUCHAREST (AFP) - A Romanian who admitted stealing seven masterpieces from a Dutch museum will get a reduced sentence because he acknowledged his guilt, a local court ruled on Thursday.

The court accepted Radu Dogaru's request to benefit from an article in Romania's penal code stipulating that a sentence can be reduced by a third if the suspect admits guilt.

Dogaru, the alleged brain of the spectacular three-minute heist, faces a maximum 20-year jail sentence if found guilty of "aggravated theft".

On Tuesday, he admitted stealing the paintings, including works by Gauguin, Picasso and Monet, in October 2012, but blamed the museum for failing to protect the masterpieces properly.

AFP: Romanian political advisor arrested over 1.4m-euro bribe

An advisor to Romania's energy minister was placed in provisional detention on Thursday suspected of offering bribes worth 1.4 million euros ($1.9 million) to sway a vote on a rigged government contract, prosecutors said.

Ioan Mihaila was an advisor to minister Constantin Nita and a member of the supervisory board for the state-owned Hidroelectrica energy firm.

He stands accused of offering backhanders to fellow board member Remus Vulpescu in exchange for his vote on a contract that would have undervalued energy prices and was judged to be "detrimental to the state", prosecutors said.

If the contract had been accepted it would have led to a shortfall of at least 60 million euros for the company, which was declared insolvent last year after losing hundreds of millions in questionable deals signed by its former directors.

During a discussion with Vulpescu and a Hidroelectrica boss, Mihaila said he would keep for himself some of the cash promised by a company that wanted to buy the cut-price energy, prosecutors said.

Another conversation intercepted by prosecutors recorded the head of the energy company, also arrested Thursday, say the energy minister too was aware of the deal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Roma: myth, suspicion and prejudice

By Peter Stanford
http://www.telegraph.co.uk

It is a measure of the sensitivity of a topic that any nomenclature you use risks causing offence. So, in writing about the two cases of alleged child abduction in Greece and Ireland that have made headlines this week, should I revert to childhood and say gipsies, a word used back then only with negative overtones by my parents and in story books? Or do I say travellers, imitating the young, radical curate in our Catholic parish who brought a group of families, whose caravans were parked nearby, to join us for Mass (and who was pilloried for his trouble)?

Or is it better – as I did earlier this year on a trip to Romania for the Telegraph to investigate the imminent removal of migration restrictions on that country – to opt for Roma, the politically correct collective noun I had gleaned from the EU’s current “Decade of Roma Inclusion” initiative? “Will you stop using that word,” my translator rebuked me. “That’s why the whole of Europe thinks all Romanians are gipsies.”
Roma make up fewer than 10 per cent of Romanians and face, as I observed, pretty naked prejudice and hostility in that country. A borderless Europe should, in theory, favour their itinerant lifestyle, yet it seems there are few places that offer any sort of welcome. After another allegation of child abduction levelled against Roma in Naples in 2008, their camps were attacked by a mob. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, responded by announcing all 150,000 Roma in Italy had to be fingerprinted.

Europe’s estimated 10 million Roma are so called because of their shared Romani language (with many regional and national dialects). “That the history of our people must be sought in our language has become something of a cliché, but to a great extent it holds true,” writes Ian Hancock (Romani name Yanko le Redzosko), a British-born academic who is director of Romani Studies at the University of Texas.

In Germany and many parts of central Europe, the Roma population is known as Sinti. In France, it’s Manush or Manouche. In Britain, some, such as the writer and educationalist Robert Dawson, still prefer gipsy (a word said to derive from a misunderstanding that identified them as Egyptians). Others go for Romanichal gipsies. And then there are the travellers, mainly of Irish origin, who insistently see themselves as a separate group. But this, says the novelist Louise Doughty, herself of Romani ancestry, can be “an artificial distinction” used by those far-Right groups who target Roma.

Even the origins of the Roma are hotly disputed. The standard line is that they are the descendants of a group of nomadic Indians (some say musicians) who travelled to Persia in the fifth century, and thereafter spread out across the lands of the Byzantine empire and into what is now eastern Europe. There are numerous sightings in early texts – the Irish friar Simon Fitzsimons, travelling round the eastern Mediterranean in 1332, writes of a people he calls “Indians… all of whom have much in common with crows and charcoal”. Already, it seems, the Roma were not getting a good press.

The Indian connection, though, is not accepted by all. The overlap between Romani and Indian dialects has been picked away at by Romani academics and often rejected in favour of a more tenuous connection with the East. It is, arguably, precisely such vagueness that has allowed outsiders – gadje, as non-Roma are called in Romani – to project their own stories and stereotypes on to the Roma and, in the process, often demonise a way of life.

“If the words gipsy or traveller were replaced with Muslim, gay, lesbian, Asian or Jew, most decent citizens would not talk in such negative terms,” says Isaac Blake, director of the Cardiff-based Romani Cultural and Arts Company. “We need to respect a long-standing heritage and culture. We need to learn more about marginalised groups, reach out and accept, not base our judgments on ignorance and fear. If we condemn Roma, gipsies and travellers, we are simply keeping the doors open for wider prejudice.”

In a world that penalises discrimination of almost every type, his argument is that society makes a special exemption for the Roma and drags its feet in shaking off the baggage of the past. Friar Fitzsimons writing 700 years ago of Roma as crows (collective name: “a murder”) is hardly a positive image, while his mention of charcoal sets up a colour contrast with white Europeans that resonates to this day. The Greek press has labelled Maria – the young girl “rescued” from Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, the gipsy couple who had claimed her as their own – as “the blonde angel”.

It was the blonde hair and blue eyes of the seven-year-old taken by police from a traveller family at Tallaght, west of Dublin, that caused anonymous callers to the Irish police to suspect she had been kidnapped. Geneticists are clear that two parents with jet-black hair are able to produce a blond child, if they have blond ancestors. How else to explain the number of blond, blue-eyed Sicilians?

The “blood libel” of medieval times – when Christians believed that Jews in their midst were kidnapping young children and sacrificing them so as to eat and drink their blood at Passover – caused pogroms and may ultimately have fed into the Holocaust. Yet it has been shown to have had no basis in fact. Anyone suggesting it today would be ridiculed – even arrested.

Similar myths were told of the Roma for centuries in the same Church-dominated society. They, too, were routinely accused of child kidnap – even though, as Thomas Acton, not Roma but Britain’s first professor of Romani Studies, based at Greenwich University, has argued emphatically: “I know of no documented case of Roma/gipsy/travellers stealing a non-gipsy child anywhere.” And the Roma community, too, suffered appallingly at the hands of the Nazis, with an estimated one million being murdered in concentration camps.

Isaac Blake puts the re-emergence of child-stealing allegations in Greece and Ireland down to both countries’ perilous economic situation. “The revival of the medieval myth around gipsy child-stealing comes when Greece is going through its worst crisis since the Fifties. Ireland’s economy has collapsed utterly. The old, tried and trusted ways of distracting anger, frustration and attention are being rolled out again.”

It may be that this is a European phenomenon, where old suspicions are never quite extinguished. In America, the estimated one million Roma have been largely assimilated into a society that doesn’t carry with it such long memories.Others prefer simpler, more practical explanations for the spectre that has reappeared this week closer to home. Apparently damning evidence in both current cases should be seen in context, according to one British-based Roma writer, who prefers not to be named. He points to his community’s tradition of children living in extended families when mothers and fathers had to travel in search of work; of taking in waifs and strays and giving them a home without asking for formal adoption paperwork; and of Roma women falling in love with blond, blue-eyed gadje. “But we are passionate about our children,” he insists.

Politicians would dispute such claims. Claude Guéant, the former French interior minister, claimed last year that 10 per cent of all crime in France could be attributed to the country’s 150,000-strong Roma community, with half of that being carried out by children who were exploited by adults.

Others argue there is a wider context to the stereotype of Roma as beggars. Roma communities in today’s Europe are at the very bottom of the economic tree, just as they have been for centuries. Around 84 per cent live below the poverty line. EU statistics show that Roma children are over-represented in the various care systems of the continent; the Irish travellers’ rights group, Pavee Point, responds that “the main underlying reasons are poverty and discrimination”.

“Roma, gipsies and travellers are very proud people,” insists Isaac Blake. “They have immaculate homes with cultural rules on cleanliness and propriety. In many communities, traditional courting rules still apply and families bring up their children with a clear moral code. We ask ourselves if mainstream society has something to learn.”

Cuts loom for Romania's Enescu Festival

http://www.dw.de

Despite musical high points and a top-notch program, the 21st Enescu Festival in Bucharest ended this autumn with warnings. It will be up to Romanian politicians to save the financially threatened, but popular event.

Every two years, a diverse group of music lovers heads to Bucharest in September to take in theGeorge Enescu Festival. Since its founding in 1958, the music festival has made a name for itself among lovers of classical and contemporary music.

A 'magical' place

Bucharest was always an important center for music and a "place of magic," said conductor Daniel Barenboim, who performed this year with his Berliner Staatskapelle for 3,000 listeners at the event's glamorous opening.

The conductor and pianist spoke about the artist for whom the festival is named, saying, "Enescu was a wonderful violinist, pianist and composer. Perhaps his problem as a composer was that he was too modern for the conservatives of his age and too conservative for the modernists."

The festival's intent is to promote the work of Romania's arguably greatest composer, particularly among international audiences. A number of the orchestras from abroad who gave performances in Bucharest left with at least one of his works in their repertoires - pieces that can then find their way into concert programs at home.

Dazzling cast

The crème de la crème of the international classical scene traded stages at an average of three concerts daily. Young US violinist Hilary Hahn, Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin and his Romanian colleague Radu Lupu all played. Chamber music was on the program, performed by Pinichas Zukerman with his trio, along with Fabio Bondi and his early music ensemble, Europa Galante.

A handful of the world's most celebrated orchestras also performed: The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner dazzled audiences, along with the Orchestre de Paris with conductor Paavo Järvi or the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Romanian conductor Cristian Mandeal.

In Wagner's anniversary year, Bucharest saw a performance for the first time of the complete "Ring" score with Market Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. With its wide-ranging program, the event could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe's most well-known music festivals.

A socially-minded festival

This year's George Enescu Festival had the theme "Magia Exista," magic exists, with concerts that left many enchanted. But fans of the event may have to do without it in coming years. Despite being one of Europe's poorest countries, Romania draws heavily on taxpayer money to finance the expensive music showcase. The government is now questioning its budget, where 90 percent of the funds come from taxpayer pockets.

Festival supporters say the government is misguided to consider pulling back on what has become a symbol of prestige for a country that is both geographically and financially on Europe's margins. With average incomes of around 350 euros ($470) in Romania, the George Enescu concert series offers residents a rare opportunity to experience top artists and orchestras.

However, some also point out that the ticket prices, while lower at many comparable events, remain out of reach for many Romanians unless they make a point of saving up for tickets.

Compromises and cuts

Defy the financial crisis with cultural riches could be the slogan for festival head Ioan Holender, the former director of the Vienna State Opera. But he already had to leave some things out this year due to the country's immense economic problems. An international competition for young musicians, singers and composers was pushed back. Concert programs in other cities of the country were streamlined, and it was long uncertain whether an accompanying symposium on musicology would take place. Ultimately, the forum went ahead, but in a reduced format.

Star conductor Daniel Barenboim argued that the financial crisis should be used to show how indispensable cultural programming is. The neo-liberal Romanian newspaper "Adevarul" wrote that Barenboim should advise the government: "Because culture and education have been neglected by us for years, we now face spiritual poverty. The mere fact that Barenboim is conducting at the Enescu Festival represents a major victory for us."

Appeals to the government

Romania's largest cultural event will go on with a more slender program, Holender has announced, but without sacrificing quality. The management says it will not tolerate any trade-offs. In 2015, the Berlin Philharmonic and Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will play in the "Paris of the East."

In order to maintain the festival's atmosphere, politicians have to be jolted into action, organizers say, citing the importance of cultural programming for the Romanian people - particularly in times of crisis. The constantly sold-out concert halls in Bucharest during the most recent edition of the festival - its 21st - lent support to their view.

Reuters: Romania Parliament delays gold mine report to Nov 10

BUCHAREST – Romania's parliament postponed a special commission's report on a controversial bill that would allow Canada's Gabriel Resources to set up Europe's biggest opencast gold mine until November 10, an official was quoted saying on Tuesday.

Gabriel Resources has been waiting 14 years for approval to use cyanide to mine 314 t of gold and 1 500 t of silver in the town of Rosia Montana. The state also holds a minority stake in the mine.

The government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta this year proposed a bill to speed up the project by setting strict deadlines for the approval process.

The bill, which triggered countrywide protests against the mine, prompted parliament to set up a commission to assess the bill. It was supposed to file its report this week.

"We approved a deadline extension until November 10 at the request of the commission's president," lower house speaker Valeriu Zgonea was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Romanians admit stealing art works in Netherlands

By By Alison Mutler October 22, 2013

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Three Romanians have pleaded guilty to stealing seven paintings, including works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse, from a Dutch museum in a daring nighttime raid that shocked the art world.

Radu Dogaru, Alexandru Bitu and Eugen Darie, told a Bucharest court on Tuesday that they took the multimillion-dollar paintings from the Kunsthal Museum in October 2012. They were charged with the theft and of bringing the paintings into Romania.

The works have never been found, and may have been burned.

In their depositions to prosecutors, the suspects, who were arrested in January, said they brought the paintings to Romania, tried to sell them on the black market, then left them with Dogaru's mother, Olga Dogaru.

Chief suspect Radu Dogaru told the court Tuesday that when he stole the paintings on the night of Oct. 15-16, he thought they were fakes. "I could not believe you could enter as easily as that," he said. "The security was practically inexistent. The door was closed but not blocked. I entered practically just with a screwdriver."

He told the court that the paintings were handed over to a Russian Ukrainian man whom he identified and wrote the man's address on a piece of paper for the court. The name was not publicly confirmed.

He also claimed that at one point he had told a Dutch prosecutor that he would return five of the paintings to Dutch authorities, but that they declined the offer, asking for all seven.

Dogaru denied the paintings had been burned in his mother's stove. He said that remains of paint, canvas and nails identified in the ash by a Romanian museum could have been from a fence with handmade nails or from 19th-century icons that were in the family home.

Olga Dogaru, who is charged with handling stolen property, had told investigators she burned the paintings, but later denied it. Six Romanians have been put on trial in the case, including one who is being tried in absentia and another who is not under arrest.

Thieves broke in through a rear emergency exit of the Kunsthal, grabbed the paintings off the wall, put them in sacks and fled — all within minutes — in the biggest art heist to hit the Netherlands for more than a decade.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head"; Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London"; Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow"; Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window"; Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," around 1890; and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed."

The paintings have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars, if sold at auction.

The next hearing in the case is on Nov. 19.

AfP: Romania launches gas company IPO before IMF review

Romania on Tuesday launched the sale of a 15 percent stake in Romgaz, the largest producer of natural gas in Central Europe, seeking to raise between $425 million and $567 million.

The sale would meet one of Romania's biggest commitments to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, made in return for four billion euros ($5.4 billion) in standby aid.

An IMF-EU delegation is expected to arrive in Bucharest on Tuesday for a review of the loan agreement.

The IMF and the EU insists that the sale of big, loss-making transport and energy companies will spur economic growth, which is expected to reach 2.0 percent in 2013.

Romgaz is the largest producer and supplier of natural gas in Romania with a production of 5.66 billion cubic metres in 2012, the Bucharest stock exchange said in a press statement.

Shares in Romgaz will be sold at a price ranging from 24 lei ($7.4) to 32 lei ($9.9) at the Bucharest and London stock exchange.

In September, the centre-left government sold a 10 percent stake in the nuclear energy producer Nuclearelectrica, raising 86 million USD.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thousands protest in Romania against shale gas, gold mine

(Reuters) - Thousands of Romanians protested on Saturday against plans by U.S. energy group Chevron to explore for shale gas in a poor eastern region and a Canadian company's project to set up Europe's biggest open cast gold mine in a Carpathian town.

Plans by the leftist government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to approve the tapping of natural resources in the European Union's second-poorest state have triggered nationwide protests since the start of September, throwing together local communities, environmentalists, civic rights groups and the clergy.

While the two projects are separate and in different stages of development, protesters have criticized a lack of transparency in approving both. They demand stronger safeguards to protect Romania's environment and national heritage.

On Thursday, Chevron suspended work on what was to be its first exploration well in the small town of Pungesti in Vaslui county, 340 km (210 miles) northeast of the capital Bucharest, after locals blocked access to the site.

But the people of Pungesti, most of whom live off subsistence farming in one of Europe's poorest regions, have continued protesting, asking officials to revoke drilling plans.

On Saturday, more than 800 locals, priests and activists gathered in front of the empty lot where Chevron plans to install the well. Hundreds rallied in other cities.

In punishing windy weather, they waved "Stop Chevron" banners and knelt to the ground while a priest led them in prayer. A group of horse riders clad in national costumes then destroyed a cardboard model of an oil well.

FRACKING FEARS

Shale gas faces opposition due to concerns around hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations to push out gas.

Critics say it can pollute water supplies and trigger small earthquakes. Advocates say it has a strong safety record and point to countries like the United States, where extensive fracking has driven down prices.

"I am against shale gas exploitation because of the chemicals used in fracking," said Vasile Ciobanu, 25, who has returned to Pungesti after working abroad for three years and now lives a few hundred meters away from the proposed well site.

"I don't think the company and Romanian officials are thinking about what could happen to people who live here."

Chevron declined to comment. Earlier this year, the company won all necessary approvals to drill exploratory wells in Vaslui, while it also has rights to explore three blocks near the Black Sea. The exploration phase would last for about five years.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Romania could potentially recover 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, which would cover domestic demand for more than a century and help push prices lower.

In the central Romanian town of Campeni, around 2,000 people protested against Canada's Gabriel Resources plans to use cyanide to mine 314 metric tons of gold and 1,500 metric tons of silver in the small town of Rosia Montana.

The state also holds a minority stake in the mine. The government approved a bill to speed up the project, which has been waiting for approval for 14 years. In Rosia Montana, many argue the mine is the only solution to create jobs.

But one of the bill's provisions grants the mine "national interest" status, which would make it easier for the company to force the few locals who oppose the plan to quit their land, in return for compensation. Critics say this is unconstitutional. The bill is now following a tortuous path through parliament, and it is unclear when a vote will take place.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Romania seeks role as gateway to CEE

Global Times | 2013-10-21
By Bai Tiantian

Romania is looking forward to stepping up both political dialogue and economic cooperation with China, said Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

In an interview with the Global Times over a Chinese National Day banquet at the Chinese Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, Ponta said Romania values its friendship with China and as the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations approaches, both countries should not only reflect upon the progress they have made, but also look for the opportunities ahead.

"Our message is clear - we want to continue this long relationship between our two countries and we want not only to step up the political dialogue with the People's Republic of China, but also to increase the intensity of our economic cooperation," said Ponta.

Romania is one of the first countries that established diplomatic relations with China and 2014 also marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Friendship and Cooperation Partnership between the two countries.

In a previous interview, Ponta said he has a relationship of respect and friendship to China and has visited the country many times. In his latest visit in July this year, Ponta attended the Local Leaders' Meeting between China and Central and Eastern European (CEE) Countries in Chongqing.

Ponta said China has become increasingly important as a global player and Romania, as a member of the EU and a border country of the CEE, could act as the gateway for China to the region.

Ponta also said Romania is keen on attracting Chinese investors in areas such as agriculture and energy, adding that the country also has a lot of potential in bio-products, a sector that has been growing significantly in Western Europe.

When asked whether Romania is shifting away from renewable energy as the government proposed cutting back on incentives for green energy projects this year, Ponta insisted that the government needs to maintain the balance between attracting foreign investment and controlling energy prices.

"Romania is interested in ensuring its energy independence and any foreign investor is welcome to come here," said Ponta, "At the same time, as a left-wing party, we are committed to promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. Ensuring fair energy prices for a large part of the consumers in Romania should not be disregarded."

Ponta also talked about a recent protest against a Canadian company's plan to open Europe's largest gold mine in Romania.

Thousands of people have marched against the project at Rosia Montana since September, citing environmental concerns due to use of cyanides. The march has become one of the longest-running protests in Romania over past decades.

Ponta said that he sees the protests as proof of Romania's vibrant democratic system and that politicians should weigh opinions from both opponents and supporters. However, he stressed the importance of attracting foreign investment to maintain economic growth.

"This government has undertaken a clear objective - to return Romania to economic growth and to create jobs," said Ponta, adding that all projects undertaken in Romania must comply with the European standards in terms of environmental protection.

Romania Seeks $425 Million From Romgaz in Its Biggest IPO

By Andra Timu & Irina Savu

Romania plans to raise at least 1.38 billion lei ($425 million) through the sale of a minority stake in Romgaz SA (0882666D), its largest natural-gas producer, in the country’s biggest initial public offering.

The government will sell 57.81 million shares, or a 15 percent stake, in Romgaz at a range of 24 lei to 32 lei per share, Energy Minister Constantin Nita told reporters in Bucharest today. It will sell shares directly to investors from Oct. 21 to Oct. 31 on the Bucharest bourse and through global depositary receipts in London, Gabriel Dumitrascu, head of the Energy Department’s asset-sale program, said at the briefing.

“It’s the state’s biggest offering, so I expect investor interest to be elevated,” Nita said. “I expect the offer to be oversubscribed.”

The eastern European country must complete the initial public offering by the end of November to meet a pledge to the International Monetary Fund to overhaul state companies under a 2 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) accord. The nation sold a minority stake in nuclear power generator Nuclearelectrica SA last month as part of the deal.

The government plans to sell 85 percent of the Romgaz shares to institutional investors and the remainder to individuals, according to Nita. The Romanian stock-market regulator is expected to approve the sale prospectus today, Dumitrascu said.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Erste Group Bank AG, Banca Comerciala Romana SA and Raiffeisen Capital & Investment SA are managing the sale.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net; James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Pentagon shifting Afghan logistics hub to Romania from Kyrgyzstan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday it has begun shifting its Afghanistan air logistics hub to a base in Romania and will complete the transition from Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan by the time its contract for that facility expires in July 2014.

The announcement of the decision to shift the operations to Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu in eastern Romania followed a visit to the Pentagon on Friday by Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa.

U.S. forces have used the site, located on the Black Sea, since 1999. An agreement between the United States and Romania in 2005 allowed Washington to use several bases, including Mihail Kogalniceanu, for training, storing equipment and deployments.

Finding a new location for the Afghanistan air logistics center was important because the Kyrgyz government has asked the United States to leave Manas by July 2014 and U.S. forces are in the midst of shipping home equipment after 12 years of war.

The Pentagon said in a statement that "the U.S. appreciates the support provided by the Kyrgyz people" to U.S. and coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan and "respects the decision of the government" to stop hosting the facility after a dozen years.

U.S. and Romanian defense ties have been growing. They include the construction of a land-based Aegis missile defense system as part of President Barack Obama's European ballistic missile defense program, which aims to protect against any weapons fired from Iran.
The Pentagon said Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller would attend a groundbreaking ceremony later this month for the construction of the Aegis site.

Friday, October 18, 2013

AFP: Romanian villagers force Chevron to suspend fracking operation

US energy giant Chevron said Thursday it has suspended shale gas test drilling in northeastern Romania after three days of protests by villagers opposed to fracking.

“Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui county,” a press release read.

The move comes a day after Romanian police clashed with villagers who have occupied since Monday a field to prevent Chevron from drilling its first exploration well.

The protesters are afraid of the environmental and health impact of the highly controversial drilling method used to unlock shale gas, called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.

The technique consists of pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil and gas, with environmentalists warning the process may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

Chevron has permits to explore for shale gas in three villages in this impoverished part of northeastern Romania as well as on Romania’s Black Sea coast.

“Our priority is to conduct … activities in a safe and environmentally responsible manner consistent with the permits under which we operate,” the group said Wednesday.

US may use Romanian airbase for Afghan pullout

(AFP)

Washington — The United States is close to a deal with Romania that would see American troops return home from Afghanistan via an air base on the Black Sea, officials said Thursday.

The proposed agreement would solve a major logistical hurdle facing the US as it pulls out the bulk of its combat forces and gear from Afghanistan over the next year.

Under the arrangement, troop flight operations would shift to Romania from Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, where a lease expires in July 2014, US defense officials told AFP.

The tentative plan will be discussed Friday when Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel hosts Romania's Defence Minister Corneliu Dobritoiu for talks, said two Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The final details are being worked out," said one of the officials.

The logistics of the US withdrawal are "phenomenally complicated," the official said. "And this was a key piece of the puzzle."

The possible agreement reflected "a growing relationship between the United States and Romania, which is in a strategically vital part of the world," he added.

Romania previously agreed to host a site for US anti-missile interceptors as part of a NATO ballistic missile defense system.

Representatives from both governments in recent months have been negotiating the terms for use of the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in eastern Romania, which would serve as the main hub for flying troops out of Afghanistan back to the United States.

Some equipment also would be flown from Afghanistan to the base, officials said.

Five US military personnel are currently stationed at the air base and the number of American troops and contractors would dramatically increase if the agreement goes ahead. In Kyrgyzstan, about 1,500 US troops and contractors work at the air base.

The Manas air field in Kyrgyzstan has been a recurring headache for Washington with tense negotiations over rental fees.

In 2010, political unrest in the Central Asian country led the US military to temporarily limit flights at Manas.

The United States has about 51,000 troops in Afghanistan and the bulk of the force will be pulled out -- along with huge quantities of vehicles and weapons -- by the end of 2014.

America, however, hopes to keep a smaller force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after the main pullout but has yet to clinch an agreement with the Kabul government.

Withdrawing soldiers and equipment out of land-locked Afghanistan is a daunting logistical challenge, and the Pentagon plans to rely mainly on land routes through Pakistan to move out most of the vehicles and gear.

Troops as well as weapons, ammunition and other sensitive items will be flown out by cargo plane.

Romania Fondul Proprietatea extends buyback tender

BUCHAREST | Fri Oct 18, 2013
Oct 18 (Reuters) - Romanian investment fund Fondul Proprietatea has extended a public tender to buy back its shares to 23 days until Nov. 14, it said on Friday.

The fund, which aims to repurchase 600 million shares, or 4.35 percent of its share capital at a price of 1 leu per share, had an initial timeline of 15 days for the offer.

Fondul Proprietatea was set up by the government to compensate Romanians whose assets were seized under communism, holds minority stakes in a slew of state firms and is managed by Franklin Templeton.

The offer is meant to speed up the Fund's buy-back programme, which it launched earlier this year, with daily purchases of shares from the bourse, in an attempt to lower its share capital and narrow the discount between its net asset value and its stock price.

The discount stood at roughly 38 percent at the end of August.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Resolute Revolution of an Emigrant Nation

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.ukOana Romocea

Not many people have noticed that there has been a lot of public commotion in one corner of Europe. For well over a month, Romania has been boiling with protests, marches and demonstrations. Tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets almost every day since the beginning of September to show their discontent towards the proposed gold mining project at Roșia Montana, a potential ecological bomb at the heart of Europe (you can read more about it in my previous article).

One of the reasons these demonstrations have remained under the Western media's radar is the fact that they are peaceful. Huge rallies happened in each major Romanian city every single Sunday with no major incident being recorded. This is very surprising given the ever-growing numbers of protesters (varying between 10,000 and 20,000 each demonstration in Bucharest alone) and the level of emotions which leaps out of every facebook feed, every blog post and every tweet.

Another fact which sets these demonstrations apart is their diversity of representation and manifestation. They have involved Romanians from all walks of life and took the most surprising and creative forms of expression as well. Young and old, parents pushingchildren in prams, cyclists, dancers, artists, skydivers, scuba divers, mountain climbers,human chain around the Romanian Parliament building...they all have joined the fight against the Roșia Montana mining project.

But if peaceful and diverse demonstrations are nothing new, there is another reason why this movement breaks the mould of a classic protest. What makes this phenomenon even more innovative and unique is its worldwide manifestation. Romanians from all corners of the world have been getting together in small and large groups for the last seven Sundays to be part of the movement already coined Global Roșia Montana Days. Each week more international locations have been added to reach well over 50 international cities (see images from London, Berlin, Paris, Munchen, Dublin, Toronto and the list can continue). Due to the shortage of media coverage, the Romanians have turned to social media channels to put their opinion across and to build their worldwide network of protests. So far it has worked well given the steadfast growth of the Roșia Montana movement.

The last time the hearts of so many Romanians scattered around the world had the same unison beat with the ones living at home was the 1989 Revolution when the communist regime was overthrown. 'Save Roșia Montana' is now believed to be the largest civic movement among Romanians in the last twenty-four years. It took everyone by surprise given that the Romanian society is usually apathetic, indifferent and resigned vis-a-vis a political class who rules the country in a no-accountability manner. Their leadership style has become even more evident in the light of the Roșia Montana project. As a consequence, the Save Roșia Montana movement is outgrowing its initial narrow remit of protecting nature and heritage. It is now about defending democratic values as well.

Romanian democracy has gradually matured over the last twenty-four years undergoing its natural course of development. In the 1990s, when it was in its infancy, voters believed everything politicians said. It also had its toddler tantrum stage when dissatisfaction with any policy change would spark successive violent public interventions of miners. A few years later, at the beginning of the millennium, it went through its adolescent stage when many Romanians rebelled and left home, millions emigrating abroad in search of a better life and future. Since 2007 when the country joined the European Union, Romanians have learned the true democratic values from older European peers. Now Romanians both from abroad and at home recognize that they need to defend what belongs de facto to them: Romania.

Romanian civil society is more mature, more responsible and more importantly cannot any longer be bought only by words and promises. It is time for the political class to mature as well and lead a dialogue on an equal footing with the civil society.

So far, there has been little evidence that the political leaders are indeed taking into account the voice of the street. Their indifference is mirrored by the disinterest of the main media outlets in covering the demonstrations. The way the Romanian politicians and media have reacted to the ever-growing campaign to save Roșia Montana is symptomatic of the problems with the Romanian democracy. The civil society has been long aware of poor governance, political decisions based on individual profit, lack of transparency, disregard for the public opinion, low journalistic standards, etc. However, with the Roșia Montana campaign, these shortcomings have been exacerbated, as if projected through a magnifying glass. It is precisely these shortcomings which have frustrated millions of Romanians who have chosen to live abroad having seen no immediate prospect for a change. But Roșia Montana campaign might just be able to spark again the long-abandoned hope of a nation who wants a better future for itself. A banner from one of the demonstrations said: 'We want to emigrate to the Romania which we are now starting to build'. Getting involved in the 'Save Roșia Montana' campaign is the Romanian diaspora's symbolic homecoming.


Follow Oana Romocea on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OanaRomocea

Post-socialist scene

Global Times | 2013-10-16
By Liao Danlin in Bucharest

Romanian films have become regular guests at big international film festivals in recent years.

The origin of what has been dubbed the Romanian New Wave is often traced back to 2001, when Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu's Stuff and Dough appeared in the Directors' Fortnight section of Cannes International Film Festival.

When Puiu's second feature, The Death of Lazarescu, won the Prix un certain regard at Cannes in 2005, he inspired a group of directors to pursue work that would meet the standard of A-list international film festivals.

Director and screenwriter Calin Peter Netzer could be counted among the inspired. The year 2013 has marked a particularly illustrious year for Netzer, as Child's Pose (2013), which won a Golden Bear earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival, has been announced as Romania's official submission to the Oscars.

Creating his own vision

Netzer was born in Romania in 1975. At the age of eight, he and his family moved to Germany.

The experience of living in a foreign country gave Netzer an early interest in films. Immersing himself in film was his way of coping with the new culture around him.

"I didn't integrate very well into Germany," he explained in a face-to-face interview with the Global Times.

As a teenager, he spent all his free time going to the cinema and creating his own vision for motion pictures. Gradually, he learned to tell his own stories and decided to work in film.

In 1994, Netzer went back to the Romanian capital of Bucharest to study filmmaking and graduated in 1999.

"I was quite young when I finished school … about 23, 24, and made my first film at 28," he said.

Netzer made some short film projects as a student and when a German producer saw his work in a festival, Netzer was asked to write a longer script. After a few drafts, the producer arranged a meeting with another screenwriter and the two worked on the script together for what would become Maria (2003), a co-production among Romania, Germany and France.

Maria went on to be a success for Netzer, earning nominations at festivals from Bratislava to Chicago and also winning awards such as the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.

His second feature, Medal of Honor (2009), also garnered recognition in several European film festivals including the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece.

When asked about the significance of these prizes, Netzer said his emotions are complicated.

"It is the only way to be noticed," he said.

Leaving Romania to 'be noticed'
Netzer's interests, like those of many of his Romanian contemporaries, lie in dramas and the art house style. Similarities across the Romanian New Wave include favoring hand-held cameras and long, sustained shots, which both add to a realistic style. The stories themselves tend to be distinctly Romanian - reflections on a socialist past and the continued emotional and social struggles. 

"We are a depressed generation," the very shy Netzer joked.

"[In] every interview they asked me about what is the secret of the New Wave. I have no answer ... [They're] small films with small budgets. We want to make films about things we know and talk about," Netzer said.

He added that there were many factors inhibiting the development of a film industry in Romania. These included poor film distribution and education, plus the local audience simply is not in the habit of going to see Romanian films.

"Art films can go to the festivals. If you are successful there, it's easier to get [recognized at] home," he explained.

As in the case of Netzer's latest, Child's Pose, which portrays a mother of a wealthy family who tries everything to protect her son who is involved in a car accident, the project operated on a relatively limited budget of 800,000 euros (about $1 million).

Started in 2009, it took three years for Child's Pose to go from idea to completed film, most of which was spent waiting for financing.

"It is the most difficult thing in a way," he said. "For half year, you have the idea [of the script] and the other nine months to get money and the other two years to wait for the money to complete the budget."

In this instance, the waiting paid off as Child's Pose resonated not only with film festival juries but also with Romanian audiences, selling 160,000 tickets in local cinema houses, the highest box-office number for Romanian cinema in 10 years.

Not that foreign to China
Though some critics see corruption and the gap between different classes as the key themes of the film, Netzer said it was not his intention to make a film about a situation specific to only Romania. 

"The first thing was about drama and relationships, mother and son," Netzer said.

Child's Pose can be easily relatable to audiences in other countries, especially China.

The family, with a strong mother and an over-protected son, bears some resemblance to the family culture present in China.

Chinese audiences also have some shared cultural experiences with Romanians, according to Yin Xiang, a film critic specializing in East European cinema. With Romania's socialist past and current move toward capitalism, Chinese audiences can relate.

Plus Romanian films have a history of being popular in China.

"[For] the younger generation in China during the 1960s and 1970s, their commercial films [were] Romanian films in that period," Mihai Kogalniceanu, general manager of the Romanian National Center for Cinematography, a public organization that is responsible for film rating and financing among other duties, told the Global Times.

Interestingly enough, the jury president of the 2013 Berlin Festival was Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, who openly expressed his favor for Child's Pose.

All these coincidences, along with a shared social and historical background, have made discussion of Romanian New Wave films a compelling topic here.

Romania's Adeplast IPO fails

Oct 16 (Reuters) - Romanian construction materials producer Adeplast failed to sell a 33 percent stake in an initial public offering on the Bucharest bourse, for which it was hoping to raise between 13 and 15 million euros ($20 million).

"The public offering for shares in Adeplast ... was not completed successfully as it did not get the minimum amount of subscriptions," brokerage Intercapital Invest, one of the advisers in the IPO, said on its website.

Founded in 1996, Adeplast has nine plants in Romania and recorded a net profit of 16.2 million lei ($4.91 million) last year, more than double compared with 2011. ($1 = 0.7406 euros) (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Radu Marinas)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AFP: Romania freight rail privatisation fails

The privatisation of Romania's freight rail company, a key commitment to the IMF, failed Monday, with the government and the would-be buyer blaming each other for the breakdown.

Romanian transporter Grupul Feroviar Roman (GFR), which in June was declared winner of the tender, had until Monday evening to pay 202 million euros ($274 million) for a 51-percent stake in CFR Marfa.

"The deadline has expired and GFR has not come up with the money," Transport Minister Ramona Manescu told a press conference.

She added a new tender would be launched soon.

GFR in turn said it did have the money and blamed the government for not observing its part of the deal.

Chief executive Gruia Stoica said the transport ministry failed to get approval for a shareholder change from CFR Marfa's local and foreign lenders.

"We were summoned to the transport ministry and told that the privatisation bid cannot continue as the conditions were not met," Stoica said.

GFR was the sole bidder for CFR Marfa after US firm OmniTRAX and an Austrian-Romanian consortium pulled out.

During negotiations with the ministry, GFR also promised to invest an additional 200 million euros in modernising the rail company.

But analysts voiced doubts over its capacity to put together such large amounts of money.

The sale of the heavily indebted, loss-making carrier was one of the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund under a precautionary 3.5-billion-euro ($4.7-billion) credit line that expired in June.

Romania meanwhile concluded a new, $2.7-billion deal with the IMF.

In September the IMF insisted the country needed reforms in the transportation and energy sectors to improve the business climate.

CFR Marfa employs 9,000 people. In 2011 it posted a net loss of 93 million lei (20.6 million euros) on sales of 1.1 billion lei.

A first attempt to privatise the company failed this spring when the transport ministry said the three bidders had not met the conditions for the sale.

A new procedure was launched a few weeks later, but two of the bidders contested it, leaving GFR the only contestant.

AFP: Romania anti-fracking protesters block Chevron test drilling

Hundreds of Romanian villagers opposed to fracking blocked Monday a convoy of vehicles intending to start test drilling for US energy giant Chevron.

Around 400 inhabitants of the eastern village of Pungesti, including many children and women, rallied on a nearby field where Chevron plans to start drilling its first exploration well.

The convoy was forced to turn around as protesters, some of whom had come in horse-drawn carts, called on Chevron to "go home".

Drilling for shale gas and oil has sparked controversy around the world due to concerns over the environmental impact of the technique used to free the hydrocarbons.

Hydraulic fraction or fracking pumps water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil and gas, but environmentalists say the technique may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

"We will not let them drill here if we must die for this," said one of the villagers, Gheorghe Hrum, a retired forest warden.

"They came with policemen and bodyguards to scare us but all we want is to be left alone, even if we are poor," he added.

The protesters also called on Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign, accusing him going back on pledges to block shale gas drilling before he took power by granting Chevron exploration permits.

Chevron has permits prospect in three villages in this part of eastern Romania, and to explore for shale gas on Romania's Black Sea coast.

Chevron maintains that all its activities "have, and will continue to be conducted in compliance with Romanian laws, EU requirements and stringent industry standards."

Monday, October 14, 2013

NYT: What's Missing in Roma Debate? Voices of Roma

By CELESTINE BOHLEN
Published: October 11, 2013
PARIS — There is something odd about the pointed political debate under way in France about an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Roma migrants, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, who, depending on who’s talking, are either a menace to society or victims of systematic discrimination.

Turn on the television, or open a newspaper, and you will see no shortage of strongly held opinions. Even the governing Socialist Party is sharply divided. Last month, Manuel Valls, the minister of the interior, said flatly that the foreign Roma — distinct from France’s estimated 350,000 native Gypsy, or “traveler,” population — are incapable of integrating into society and should go home. He was swiftly denounced by another cabinet minister who accused him of stigmatizing an entire ethnic group.

And so the debate continues, with both sides, each backed by small armies of editorialists and experts, talking past each other and over the heads of the Roma themselves. With six months to go before France’s critical municipal elections, many politicians, mostly on the right (plus Mr. Valls), blame the Roma for a rise in petty crime, a major factor in the overwhelming popular support — 77 percent, according to one poll — for the interior minister’s hard-line position.

They point to assorted statistics like a 69 percent increase, between 2009 and 2011, in crimes committed by Romanian citizens (by law, French statistics do not identify ethnic groups like the Roma) and the 23 percent of crimes committed by minors in Paris in 2010 attributed to young Romanians.

These statistics are brushed aside by human rights groups and politicians, mostly on the left, who concentrate on the unjust treatment of the Roma, a people who, having fled misery and discrimination back home, are facing both again in France.

Yet these views are not mutually exclusive. Both crime and misery are on display every day in the center of Paris, where women with children in their arms sit begging, where families spend the night on the streets and where bands of young girls, waving fake petitions, throng tourist sites, eyeing the purses of unsuspecting visitors.

Somehow, though, these people are invisible when it comes to the public debate. A recent demonstration in support of the Roma was held in the center of Paris, blocks away from a street corner where an extended family of Roma migrants had set up camp on two mattresses covered with food, blankets, children and stuffed animals. They did not attend the protest; they were not even aware it was taking place.

“So who are the Roma, and where are they?” asked Saimir Mile, president of the Voice of the Roma, a small organization founded in 2005. “You cannot understand certain realities without knowing the facts.”

Facts about the Roma, who number between 10 million and 12 million across Europe, are always difficult to come by. As citizens of the European Union, they can come and go without going through passport control, leaving no record of their stay.

The French estimate has remained the same for several years even as successive governments continue to deport Roma from France. In the first eight months of this year, a total of 3,180 Romanians and Bulgarians, many presumed to be Roma, have been escorted out of the country.

Meanwhile, within France, they are continually being moved from place to place, as courts, under pressure from local mayors, order them to evacuate their squalid shantytowns. In 2012, 12,841 Romanians and Bulgarians, mostly Roma, were evicted, an increase of 18.4 percent over 2011. Despite promises by the Socialist government to conduct these evictions in a more humane way, they have not slowed; in July and August this year, 3,746 Roma were displaced in 39 separate operations.

Mr. Mile, 38, an Albanian-born Rom in France since 1996, was a lecturer on Roma culture at a Paris university when he decided to create a group that could speak for the Roma, rather than about them.

“The Roma are a highly prized topic for structures of all kinds, which have their own interests, on the left, on the right,” he said.

His tiny group, with just 50 members, has had meager results. In one case, Mr. Mile managed to get some 30 Roma children ready for school, with the right vaccinations and documents, just when their families were evicted from a local campsite.

The fact is most migrant Roma have overstayed their three-month sojourns in France that are permitted without visas. Their encampments are also mostly illegal, since local officials are reluctant to give the necessary permission. Without jobs or legal residency, their access to social services is limited, and their vulnerability to evictions and expulsions is high.

The larger Roma community in France is not much help, Mr. Mile said. “They, too, have suffered from racism and discrimination,” he said. “Their first reaction is to say, ‘We’re not like those people.’ They are torn between a feeling of proximity and a fear of even greater stigmatism.”

This kind of silence leaves the Roma on the outside of the discussion. It is a complaint heard elsewhere in Europe as officials, on a national and E.U. level, try to come up with solutions to the centuries-old, Continent-wide problems of a population still in search of integration.

“Without the participation of the Roma, solving Roma issues is much more difficult,” said Peter Pollak, a Roma member of the Slovak Parliament and chief representative of a Roma community that makes up 10 percent of all Slovaks, in a recent interview in Bratislava.

Bucharest dog cull plan divides Romanians

By Petru Clej
BBC News, Bucharest

It is almost impossible to walk the streets of Bucharest for more than five minutes and not encounter a stray dog.

According to official estimates there are 65,000 of them - one for every 30 residents of the Romanian capital.

But this situation is about to change, if the government gets its way. Or, if a growing number of alarmed international protesters get theirs, it will not.

The government wants the dogs rounded up and, if not claimed within two weeks, put down.

While this proposal has plenty of support in Romania, protests have rapidly spread around the world, with critics deploring the impending "massacre".

There have been demonstrations outside Romanian embassies in some European capitals, and celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and Pamela Anderson have made forceful representations against the law.

This outside interference has incensed supporters of the law, who say "animal lovers" - used partly as a term of abuse - are distorting the truth by, in some cases, disseminating pictures showing cruelty against stray dogs taken in other countries, while claiming to originate from Romania.

Stray dogs are nothing new for Bucharest or for Romania in general but the canine population has grown, especially since former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ordered in the 1980s the demolition of vast areas of houses in Bucharest and other cities, and their replacement with concrete blocks of flats, forcing the owners to abandon their dogs.

Child's death

Attacks are frequent: in the first eight months of 2013, almost 10,000 people in Bucharest were treated for dog bites by the Matei Bals Institute for Infectious Diseases.

In some cases, stray dogs have killed people. One of the most infamous incidents resulted in the death of a Japanese tourist in Bucharest in 2006.

But the incident which led to an explosion of popular anger was the mauling to death of a four-year-old boy, Ionut Anghel, by a pack of stray dogs on a private plot in northern Bucharest, on 2 September.

"It took this tragedy to wake me up to the fact that there are dogs on the streets," says Nadine Apostolescu, a well-known singer and dog owner herself, who is the public face of the campaign to remove stray dogs.

"Now, after 20 years when nothing was done, I took to the streets as a mother and a citizen to protest against this situation."

Demonstrations followed and parliament quickly adopted a bill, dormant for more than three years, which provides for the destruction of captured stray dogs by "humane methods" as a last resort, after 14 working days.

It also introduces mandatory registration for dogs and harsher penalties for owners who abandon their animals.

But critics complain that, besides potentially triggering a massacre of stray dogs, the law will not solve the problem in the long term, as it does not tackle the issue of uncontrolled breeding.

"The likelihood is that only tame strays will be captured, as the authorities lack the resources to capture the most aggressive ones, which will continue to breed and the problem will only get worse," says Ovidiu Rosu, a vet with the animal charity Vier Pfoten (Four Paws).

He also points out that lots of Romanians are in the habit of feeding stray dogs, which is likely to encourage their continued survival.

Lethal injection

On both sides of the argument there is a consensus that stray dogs have no place on the streets.

Dog-lovers want a sterilisation programme instead, and more investment in dog shelters and adoption. These ideas have had only limited success in the past.

Language has become a key point of contention. Opponents object to the law's reference to "euthanasia", saying most stray dogs are healthy animals and this is not an act of mercy killing, but a "massacre".

Supporters liken the packs of stray dogs to a "plague of wild animals".

Opinion polls suggest supporters outnumber the opponents - by as much as 70% to 30%.

Bucharest's mayor, Sorin Oprescu, has promised that 80% of stray dogs will be removed within a year - half of these, apparently, by adoption.

He refused to elaborate on what method would be used to kill those dogs which are not adopted. A lethal injection seems most likely.

Whatever the outcome, in the end the question still lingers: if Romania has been unable to control its stray dog population for the past 20 years - be it through lack of political will or through corrupt diversion of funding - what is the guarantee that it will manage to do so in future, once the anger generated by the tragic death of an infant mauled by stray dogs starts to subside?

Romania to Sell 15% of Romgaz, Biggest Gas Producer, This Year

Romania plans to sell 15 percent of Romgaz SA, its largest natural-gas producer, in an initial public offering this year as part of the eastern European country’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

Romgaz shares will trade on the Bucharest Stock Exchange as well as in London as global depositary receipts, Romgaz and the government said in a joint statement today. Romania will keep at least 70 percent of Romgaz and property-restitution fund Fondul Proprietatea SA will have a 15 percent stake in the company. The total value of the offering may reach as much as 600 million euros ($814 million), Gabriel Dumitrascu, head of the Energy Department’s asset-sale program, said on Sept. 19.

“The listing of Romgaz is part of the ambitious program initiated by the Romanian government to introduce private investors into strategic companies in the context of reforming the energy sector,” Energy Minister Constantin Nita said in the statement.

Romania’s government must complete the sale by the end of November to meet the terms of its newly-signed 2 billion-euro accord with the IMF to overhaul state companies. The nation sold to the public a minority stake in nuclear power generator Nuclearelectrica SA last month as part of the deal.
Asset Sales

The country also sold a 15 percent stake in natural-gas grid operator Transgaz SA in April and an additional 15 percent stake in utility Transelectrica SA in March last year.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s government may approve next week a price range in Romgaz’s sale, which should start no later than Oct. 28 and end by Nov. 9, Bursa newspaper reported today, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

The offering could start as soon as the end of this month, Dumitrascu said in an interview on Oct. 9.

Romgaz’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell to 1.1 billion lei in the first half of 2013 from 1.2 billion lei a year earlier, it said in the statement. Sales declined to 3.8 billion lei in 2012 from 4.2 billion lei in 2011.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Erste Group Bank AG, Banca Comerciala Romana SA and Raiffeisen Capital & Investment SA are managing the sale.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania Fondul Proprietatea shares hit record high

Oct 11 (Reuters) - Shares in Romanian investment fund Fondul Proprietatea briefly hit an all-time high on Friday after a public tender offer aimed at speeding up its share buy-back programme got approval from the Financial Supervisory Authority on Thursday.

It plans to repurchase 600 million shares representing 4.3546 percent of its share capital at a price of 1 leu per share.

Set up by the government to compensate Romanians whose assets were seized under communism, Fondul is managed by Franklin Templeton and holds minority stakes in some state-owned companies.

Its share price was up 0.85 percent at 0.7835 lei by 0950 GMT on the Bucharest Stock Exchange, falling back after scaling to a record high of 0.8095 lei earlier in the session.

The tender offer is being brokered by Banca Comerciala Romana and Wood & Co. and the subscription is due to run from Oct. 15 to Nov. 4, the bourse said in a statement.

The fund launched its buy-back programme earlier this year, with daily purchases of shares from the bourse, in an attempt to lower its share capital and narrow the discount between its net asset value and its stock price. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

AP: Thousands in Romania protest gold mine

THOUSANDS of people are blocking a major road in downtown Bucharest to protest plans to build what would be Europe's biggest gold mine.

Protesters marched past government headquarters on Sunday yelling, "Your treason is measured in gold!"

Canada's Gabriel Resources has been trying to gain permits to go ahead with the planned mine in northwest Romania for 14 years.

Parliament is due to vote in the coming weeks on whether to back the project.

Opponents of the mine criticise plans to use cyanide in the extraction process, while others say Romania would earn too little from the open cast mine, for which four mountains would be razed.

But supporters argue the project would create jobs for unemployed miners and provide vital foreign investment to a deprived area.