Romanians Vote Against Ousting President

By ALEXANDRU ALEXE
The Associated Press
Sunday, May 20, 2007; 3:33 AM

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romania's president _ suspended on grounds he abused power _ easily survived a referendum on his impeachment Saturday, with partial results indicating about three-fourths of the votes supporting the leader.

With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, about 74 percent had voted against impeaching President Traian Basescu, 25 percent voted for impeachment, and the remainder of ballots were invalid, Central Electoral Commission head Dumitru Gheorghe said Sunday.

Turnout was just under 44 percent of Romania's 18 million eligible voters, Gheorghe added.

Five parties in parliament banded together last month to suspend Basescu, saying he violated the constitution by usurping the role of the prime minister and criticizing the courts. The parties also called the referendum on his impeachment.

Basescue, a staunch U.S. ally who won the presidency in 2004, is credited with helping to implement reforms that helped Romania join the EU on Jan. 1. He said the outcome showed Romanians back his agenda for anti-corruption reforms and a new constitution to clarify the balance of power between institutions. Basescu has said the main reason for his conflict with lawmakers was his determination to shield prosecutors and judges from traditional interference from politicians.

"Romanians want justice, and we have an obligation to give them what they want," he told supporters.

He joined hundreds of supporters chanting his name and calling for Tariceanu's resignation at a central Bucharest square. He promised the crowd he would do "everything possible" to modernize the country.

"Nobody wants a Romania owned by oligarchs anymore," he added, referring to wealthy businessmen and politicians who he said took control of the country during the transition from communism.

Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said late Saturday that he would work with Basescu.

"Romanians gave Traian Basescu a second chance," he said. "I respect this decision and will act in a spirit of collaboration with the president."

Mircea Geoana, leader of the left-wing Social Democratic Party, acknowledged defeat, but said Basescu had "won a victory without glory" because turnout was relatively low.

© 2007 The Associated Press