Romanian president defends his gov't

January 25, 2012 - 2:05 PM
Romania Protests

Riot police in combat gear observe demonstrators during an anti-government protest in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. Thousands, from all over Romania, joined protests in the Romanian capital asking for the resignation of the country's president and early elections. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — After nearly two weeks of anti-government protests, Romania's leader acknowledged on Wednesday that some citizens have lost faith in his leadership but insisted that the austerity measures he has introduced have pulled the country out of a recession.

But as President Traian Basescu gave his nationally televised speech hundreds of people gathered in Bucharest for another demonstration, despite a heavy snowfall.

"I know what needs to be done," Basescu said in a 35-minute speech at the presidential palace. He said his government must "continue the fight against corruption and tax evasion," and create more jobs.

Basescu said that after 13 straight days of protests around the country it is clear that many citizens are unhappy with his government, but he insisted it has a good record and has passed laws to reform the nation's criminal, justice and education systems.

"We are where we should be. Romania has come out of a recession," and we will have economic growth this year, the president said. The International Monetary Fund says the economically struggling country is expected to have about 2 percent growth this year.

Basescu denied allegations that he is meddling in state institutions. "I am not a dictator," he said.

Many Romanians have become disenchanted with their once-popular president, saying he is too outspoken and has grown increasingly confrontational. Basescu compared running Romania to his previous career as a ship captain and said he would not abandon the country "in the middle of a crisis."

Romania signed up for a euro20-billion ($26 billion) loan with the IMF, European Union and World Bank in 2009 to help pay salaries and pensions, when the economy shrunk by more than 7 percent. In 2010, the government increased the sales tax from 19 to 24 percent and cut public workers salaries by one-fourth to reduce the budget deficit. Romanians also are angry over cronyism and a perception that the government is not interested in the problems of ordinary people in this nation of 22 million.

The demonstrations — some containing thousands of people — are being held against very low living standards, widespread corruption, and the passage of some laws without a parliamentary debate.

Earlier Wednesday, Romania's Constitutional Court ruled that a new law allowing simultaneous local and parliamentary elections is unconstitutional. Such local and parliamentary elections have previously been held several months apart in the same year.

The court, which did not provide details on its ruling, rejected the law following a complaint from opposition parties. The government passed the law through Parliament in December, without debate.

The opposition says the law would complicate the election process, creating more confusion and making cheating easier. The government said organizing one ballot for two different elections would save money.

Following heavy criticism, lawmaker Iulian Urban resigned from the governing Democratic Liberal Party — led by Prime Minister Emil Boc — after calling the protesters "worms."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Mark H. Gitenstein criticized what he called high-level corruption in Romania.

"Profits from publicly owned enterprises are too often diverted back to state coffers or into the pockets of well-connected individuals," he said in a speech alleging that public funds are sometimes illegally siphoned off.