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Romanian law gives president fighting chance
New Romanian law gives suspended president chance of surviving impeachment vote
By The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Romania's interim president on Tuesday signed a new law that requires a majority of registered voters to take part in a referendum for it to be valid, giving suspended President Traian Basescu a fighting chance of remaining in office when his impeachment comes up for a public vote.

The former communist country appeared to be signaling to the European Union that it is addressing concern about the state of its democracy, a key issue as it tries to attain greater privileges within the regional bloc, including access to its passport-free zone.

Basescu was impeached by Parliament on grounds he overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the judicial system. Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab, and the political turmoil has dented Romania's credibility, with the U.S. and the EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government's respect for the independence of the judiciary.

On Tuesday, the national currency, the leu, fell to a new record low against the euro.

The law enacted by interim President Cris Antonescu could help Basescu survive the July 29 referendum because it is uncertain whether the turnout will be high enough to be valid. Basescu, a 60-year-old former ship captain has become increasingly unpopular in recent years due to austerity measures.

He denies having committed "grave violations" of the constitution and says that even if Romanians vote against him, he will stay in office if turnout is lower than half.

In Brussels, the EU said Tuesday it welcomed the action.

Antonescu said he personally had doubts about the law, approved by the constitutional court last week, and added that he had come under pressure both in Romania and abroad to ensure a minimum turnout.

The political instability began when Ponta became premier on May 7 following the collapse of two pro-Basescu governments. Ponta's government quickly moved to remove both speakers of Parliament and replace them with figures from the governing coalition. Parliament then impeached Basescu.


Slobodan Lekic contributed from Brussels to this report.

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