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Romania questions ex-president Ion Iliescu over crimes against humanity

Romania's first democratically elected president has appeared in court over the violent suppression of a protest movement during his tenure. Miners attacked a group of protestors at Iliescu's behest.

Former President Ion Iliescu (pictured above in 2009 with his wife) was in front of Romania's top court on Wednesday to answer charges of crimes against humanity.

The 85-year-old ruled Romania from 1990 to 1996 and then again from 2000 to 2004.

The charges stem from the violent suppression of a series of sit-ins that took place in downtown Bucharest for several weeks in 1990. Demonstrators calling for communists and former communists to be barred from holding political office in the future began gathering in University Square, protesting and launching hunger strikes.

Miners from the Jiu Valley were trucked into the capital to confront the protestors, and the violent struggle that ensued was broadcast on government television. Iliescu later publicly thanked the miners.

"The violent repression of the demonstration organised at University Square killed four people and wounded some 1,000," the prosecution said.

The ex-president would not speak to reporters outside the High Court of Cassation and Justice on Wednesday, but Iliescu's former intelligence chief Virgil Magureanu gave testimony about his own role in the incident.

When asked if he was guilty of crimes against humanity, Magureanu said "that's a stupid question."

National prosecutors opened an investigation into the violence in March following criticism from the European Court of Human Rights for not having done so. Iliescu had been previously charged with murder over the protest deaths in 2005, but those charges were dropped in 2007.

Iliescu came to power in 1990 after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's communist regime, making him the first democratically elected head of state in Romania.

The violent end to the University Square protests marred the country's transition from communism to democracy.

es/rg (AFP, AP)

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