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Romanian lawmakers vote on impeaching president; EU 'concerned' about rule of law
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Romania's governing coalition began voting Friday on whether to impeach President Traian Basescu as the European Union expressed concern about rule of law in the country.
Senate speaker Crin Antonescu earlier said parliament would not wait for a decision from the Constitutional Court to rule on a move to impeach Basescu, who has been accused of overstepping his authority by meddling in government and legal affairs. The ruling coalition insisted it had enough votes amid doubts about the outcome expected late Friday.
Basescu, who has been president since 2004, addressed lawmakers and denied accusations that he was an authoritarian leader.
"Have you seen a dictator let the opposition have the post of prime minister?" he said referring to his bitter rival Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has been in office since May 7.
Basescu was impeached in 2007 but survived a referendum on the issue; his popularity has declined steeply in the past two years.
The court's decision postponed for several hours on Friday stopped short of making a clear ruling on the impeachment charges. It concluded that Basescu had failed to mediate "with maximum efficiency and effectiveness between the state and civil society," but did not say whether he should be impeached or not.
The 60-year-old former ship's captain is also accused of making racist remarks about Gypsies and disabled people. Basescu counters that he has the right to free speech and cannot be impeached merely for statements.
The European Commission has called on the left-leaning government to respect the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, calling them "the cornerstones of European democracy" and essential for "mutual trust" within the EU.
Earlier this week, the prime minister issued a decree reducing the powers of the Constitutional Court with regard to its ruling on parliamentary laws.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, said Germany is wary about the move and that the Constitutional Court's independence should be preserved.
"Hasty changes to laws and urgent decrees in order to trim the powers of state bodies things like this undermine confidence in the rule of law in a country," Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
He added that current developments will be taken into account in considering Romania's full entry to the EU's visa-free Schengen travel zone.
If Parliament chooses to impeach Basescu, a referendum will take place in 30 days, but it is likely that the ruling coalition will organize it earlier to give Basescu less time to campaign.
Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin, Germany to this report.