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Posts tagged ‘Mystical Land of Romania’

Romania’s constitutional court upholds anti-corruption law

May 04, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s constitutional court on Thursday upheld a law preventing people with convictions from serving as ministers, a victory for the country’s anti-corruption fight. The ruling deals a blow to the powerful chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who cannot be prime minister due to a conviction last year for vote rigging.

Dragnea has called the law unfair and many Social Democrats want him to be prime minister. The court had postponed making a ruling four times. The law, introduced in 2001 as Romania prepared for membership of NATO and the European Union, bars people with convictions from serving as ministers. Dragnea could still run for president as the law does not cover that post.

In January, Romania’s ombudsman asked the court to declare it unconstitutional. In a related development, Senators who are members of a parliamentary legal committee voted Thursday to scrap a draft law they had approved the previous day that would have granted amnesty to people convicted of bribery and influence peddling.

More than 1,000 protested the vote Wednesday evening in Bucharest, joined by hundreds more in cities around Romania.

2 teens die in April avalanche in western Romania

April 22, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian authorities say two teenagers have died in an avalanche in western Romania after the country was hit by a blast of wintry weather. Emergency situations chief Raed Arafat told The Associated Press that rescue workers pulled the bodies of two youngsters, aged 13 and 14, out of the snow after the avalanche hit Saturday but three others were not in danger.

He said the group was in the Retezat Mountains, an area popular with hikers 350 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Bucharest, the capital. He didn’t know whether they were hiking or skiing. He says “they were caught in the avalanche and unfortunately they couldn’t be saved.”

Arafat said local authorities had warned about a high risk of avalanches, saying it was unsafe even to send a helicopter there.

Slobbery kisses: Romania hosts show for 1,600 exotic pets

March 20, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A tabby feline with big furry claws, bald cats with shell-like ears and skinny tails, and slobbery wrinkled pugs were the stars as Bucharest hosted a show featuring over 1,600 exotic pets.

The pet show in the Romanian capital kicked off with a free dog handling session for some of the 1,500 dogs. Owners proudly paraded their pets at the March 10-12 event or entered them into beauty contests.

Rare breeds of dogs, cats and exotic animals are status symbols in Romania — but there was plenty of affection too, as owners cuddled or performed with their dogs. The array of pets included coiffed canines and bright-eyed cats. Exotic bald cats with webbed paws vied for attention with dogs like pugs or basset hounds.

One boy visiting the show got into a cage to hug a dozing cognac-colored dog about the same size as him. Dogs took part from Romania, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine.

Three pugs with tightly coiled tails stood on their hind legs seeking their owner’s attention. Two basset hounds had silver scarves wrapped around their necks. Lali the greyhound trotted along the red carpet with an alert expression, watching its owner toss a tennis ball in her hand.

Romania’s huge protests cause rifts among families, friends

February 23, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Video editor Mihnea Lupan lives just around the corner from his mother, but their views on the massive anti-corruption protests shaking Romania are miles apart. Since late January, when tens of thousands first took to the streets to protest a government degree that decriminalized some official misconduct, Lupan and his mother, Valentina, have been at loggerheads. Fights over politics dominate their visits instead of home-cooked meals and pleasantries.

“Don’t speak to me like I’m an idiot! You are what you are today, thanks to me,” Valentina Lupan, a retired architect, shouted at her 35-year-old son during an emotionally charged two-way that started within minutes of his entering the apartment where his parents and aunt live.

The demonstrations, the largest in Romania since a 1989 revolution led to the execution of the communist leader, have been a nightly occurrence for three consecutive weeks now. During that time, they have exposed a sharp generational divide between citizens who grew up, built careers and started families under communism and those who came of age a decade after the country moved to a free market economy and a multiparty system.

Most of the protesters are on the younger side. Through travel, jobs at foreign companies and the internet, they feel closer to the West than their parents. They speak languages besides Romanian, and some have worked in countries with higher wages and less pervasive corruption.

When the center-left government issued an emergency ordinance on Jan. 31 to decriminalize abuse in office if it involved less than $48.500, it struck a nerve. Taking a break from editing a program about fishing, Lupan, a slim, bearded man, said the young must show Romania’s politicians “we want change. We want to reach Western standards.”

Premier Sorin Grindeanu eventually withdrew the decree, although the government still plans to introduce the measure as a law in Parliament, where Grindeanu’s party has a majority. The center-left government also is popular with older voters. It has promised to raise state pensions, a move that would bring Valentina Lupan an extra 200 lei ($47) a month, a 20 percent increase.

Valentina, 65, is skeptical about the motives of the anti-government protesters, including her son. She thinks they were lured by financial incentives or told to demonstrate by the multinational companies they work for, echoing the news channels she watches.

As a young architect, she crafted wooden and metal doors for the giant palace of President Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist leader executed in 1989, and insists she has never paid a bribe to secure a contract. She says byzantine legislation, not outright deceit, is to blame for official corruption.

“Why weren’t they out in the streets to protest against illegal logging on a large scale?,” she asks her son during the heated exchange that had her worrying about her blood pressure. “So they didn’t protest against (that) or the stray dogs’ issue?”

In the quiet of his apartment, Lupan attributed his mother’s frustrations to a loss of earnings in recent years. “Everything was laid out for them … in communism and immediately after,” he said, adding that the news channels she watches have “indoctrinated” his mother.

Despite their differences, Lupan remains convinced that Romania needs to make steady progress toward reform so “my future children will have a chance not to be …. a generation of sacrifice.”

Romania: 13th day of govt protests draw tens of thousands

February 12, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Protesters numbering in the tens of thousands gathered again Sunday outside the Romanian government’s offices to demand the resignation of the East European country’s leadership.

The enormous crowds assembled in Victory Square marked the 13th consecutive day of anti-government demonstrations in Bucharest, the capital. They later formed a huge human Romanian flag. The protests demanding a new government and a new style of governance started last month when the center-left government passed an emergency ordinance that would have watered down laws that punish official corruption.

“I’ve been coming here to show them they can’t just govern the way they like. They can’t trick us or buy us off with a few lei,” demonstrator Bogdan Bogatoniu said, referring to the Romanian currency.

Thousands also protested in the cities of Cluj, Sibiu, Iasi, and Timisoara. “Romanians have woken up, they can’t be fooled anymore,” said Bogatoniu, a 33-year old IT expert who came to the square with his wife and 2-month-old son.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 government supporters gathered outside the presidential palace. For the eight consecutive day, they called for the resignation of President Klaus Iohannis, who condemned the emergency decree and has vocally supported the anti-government protests.

Premier Sorin Grindeanu withdrew the disputed ordinance a week ago following days of demonstrations, the biggest street protests since communism ended in 1989. The justice minister resigned last week over widespread public anger.

The withdrawn decree was one of a series of government initiatives that would have also eased penalties for the ruling Social Democrats’ leader, Liviu Dragnea. A vote-rigging conviction has blocked Dragnea from becoming prime minister.

Romania protests endure as president says country in crisis

February 07, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s president told lawmakers Tuesday that the country is in a “fully-fledged” political crisis, after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against a government measure that would weaken the country’s anti-corruption drive.

In an address to Parliament, President Klaus Iohannis, a critic of the two-month-old government, said the majority of Romanians now believed the country was going in the wrong direction. “Romania needs a government that is transparent, which governs predictably by the light of day, not sneakily at night,” the president said, referring to the late hour the government passed an emergency ordinance last week aimed at decriminalizing some forms of official corruption.

The move — which bypassed Parliament and was not signed off by Iohannis, who has limited powers — ignited the biggest protests seen since communism ended in the country in 1989. As a result, the government will now seek to introduce the plan in Parliament.

Thousands gathered for the eighth consecutive evening in Victory Square outside the government offices, shouting “Social Democratic Party, the red plague!” and “Resign!” In smaller numbers, about 2,000 protesters gathered outside the presidential palace yelling “Get out, you traitor!”

Iohannis, who was elected in 2014 by direct vote, was chairman of the opposition Liberal Party. He quit the party that year to stand as president. He has been critical of the government headed by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, which came into being after the December parliamentary elections.

The government “has been saying publicly I can’t stomach the result of the vote … that I’d overturn a legitimate government,” Iohannis said. “That’s false. You won, now govern and legislate, but not at any price.”

Some lawmakers booed and shouted “shame on you!” at Iohannis and walked out. Other lawmakers cheered. Despite the crisis, Iohannis said Romania didn’t need early elections, a view the government shares.

Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the governing Social Democratic Party, and Senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu refused to greet the president when he arrived at Parliament. In his speech, Iohannis pressed ahead with an earlier initiative to hold a referendum on another government initiative to pardon prisoners. Critics say the proposal will help government allies convicted of corruption.

Dragnea, the main power broker behind the government, expressed disappointment Iohannis did not deliver a “speech of unity,” and said “he should leave the government alone, to govern.”

Romanian government seeks loophole on corruption

February 07, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s government is on a high-risk mission: devise a legal and politically acceptable way to remove penalties for some types of official corruption. First, the government tried to effect the change by imposing an emergency decree without public debate. The move backfired badly, sparking massive demonstrations in the capital of Bucharest and other major cities that caused the government to reverse course.

The standing of the left-leaning government that assumed power two months ago has fallen so quickly that leaders found it necessary Monday to assert they would not resign even as the protests continued. The prime minister says a new proposal will be put before Parliament instead.

Is there a legal and political path for the government to accomplish its goal of easing corruption rules for public officials? Experts say Parliament can indeed pass such a law — and it could take effect if the president signs it — but the political task of winning support is trickier.

Laura Stefan, a Romanian anti-corruption specialist with the Expert Forum public policy think tank in Bucharest, said the government made a strategic blunder with the emergency decree. It would have tolerated abuse of power by officials — ranging from a mayor in a small village to a top government minister — if the amount of graft involved totaled less than about $48,500.

“It’s simply un-defendable,” Stefan said. “How can you explain to the people of this country, who maybe don’t make $50,000 in their lifetime, that it is okay for public officials to misuse their office in order to obtain less than $50,000 from the state budget.”

Public officials have not offered a specific explanation for why the law is needed, although one minister said it would bring the country in line with other European nations. The decree also would have applied retroactively to officials already convicted of corruption offenses involving less than $48,500.

The threshold figure would not have applied to case in which money was stolen, which would still be prosecuted as theft, but could apply to mismanagement of public funds, kickbacks on purchases or contracts, or other types of official misconduct. It would apply to officials who have hidden interests in companies that they set up and then make purchases from while in office.

One possible beneficiary would be Social Democratic Party leader Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea, whose path to becoming prime minister has been effectively blocked by corruption charges. His party enjoys broad support in Parliament, giving backers hope the redrafted measure will pass despite vocal opposition in the streets.

The provocative proposal could be difficult to enact even if it passes in Parliament, however, because it would still require the approval of President Klaus Iohannis, who has expressed opposition to the measure in its current form.

Transparency International, which lobbies for greater openness in government, has opposed both the way in which the emergency measure was imposed without public scrutiny and the proposal now set to be debated in Parliament.

Adam Foldes, one of the group’s international lawyers at its Berlin headquarters, said the proposal does not meet international conventions set out by the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that call for corruption penalties to be “proportionate, effective, and a deterrent.”

“It doesn’t look good from an international perspective or a domestic legal perspective,” Foldes said, adding that the original proposal cost the relatively new government a substantial amount of public support and should have been put before elected representatives all along.

Many protesters say they plan to continue nightly demonstrations until the government steps down even though the emergency ordinance was withdrawn on Sunday. Lawyer Nicholas Hammond, who practices in Romania, said the procedure for approving emergency decrees was put in place after the country’s 1989 anti-communist revolution to deal with critical situations that developed when Parliament was not in session.

However, it soon was abused by officials seeking to act without input from legislators, he said. “They realized they could do it even when Parliament was in session,” Hammond said. “This wasn’t even on the agenda and it was done at 10 at night.”

There were signs Monday that the government, facing nightly protests, is wavering in its commitment to press for quick adoption of the proposal in Parliament. Justice Minister Florin Iordache said in a statement Monday that he is “not preoccupied” with drawing up a draft law and will await clarification from the Constitutional Court.

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