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Romanian parliament votes to impeach president

An internal power struggle in Romania's divided government has escalated, with the parliament voting to impeach the country's president. The decision must be approved by a popular referendum in 30 days.

Romania's parliament on Friday initiated impeachment proceedings against center-right President Traian Basescu, raising concern in the European Union that an internal power struggle is undermining the rule of law in the country.

A total of 258 lawmakers in the 432-member parliament voted in favor of the move to impeach Basescu. But the impeachment will only take place if it is approved in a popular referendum within 30 days.

Lawmakers have alleged that Basescu illegally assumed the powers of prime minister in 2010 when he announced drastic austerity measures. Basescu has denied the charges, saying the campaign against him puts at risk "the stability and reputation of the country."

Internal power struggle

Basescu is caught in a power struggle with Romania's center-left prime minister, Victor Ponta, of the Liberal Social Union (USL). This week, Ponta's USL fired the speakers of both houses of parliament, the ombudsman and has threatened to fire judges of the Constitutional Court.

Ponta's cabinet on Wednesday approved a measure that would bar the Constitutional Court from ruling on parliamentary decisions. That would effectively remove any obstacle to Basescu's impeachment.

Basescu, for his part, has accused the USL of trying to "control all levers of the state, especially the judiciary." The EU has also expressed concern that checks and balances are being eroded in Romania, the bloc's poorest member state.

"The rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of the European democracy and indispensable for mutual trust within the European Union," warned the European Commission.

slk/ng (AP, AFP, dpa)