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September 26, 2017

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Romania's Traian Basescu survives impeachment vote

BUCHAREST--Romanian President Traian Basescu escaped impeachment Monday when a referendum on his removal from office fell short of the 50 percent turnout needed, despite a resounding vote for his dismissal.

His arch rival Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has led efforts to push Basescu from office, said he had accepted the result and would not pursue the president's ouster.

"I am not going to seek confrontation with Basescu," Ponta told five foreign media including AFP in an interview in his office in Bucharest, stressing that "everyone is going to lose if we are continuing to fight."

Now that the two men will have to work together, Ponta pledged not to "interfere with the president's prerogatives," but stressed: "It takes two to tango."

Basescu said after results were announced that voters had "thwarted a coup" by shunning polling stations but acknowledged the "anger" of the millions who did call for his removal after eight years in office.

Basescu was accused by his rivals in the government of violating the constitution by overstepping his authority to interfere in the daily running of the country, appointing loyalists to key positions in the justice system and using the secret services against his political rivals. Basescu claimed his rivals were planning to seize control of the judicial system and European Union funds. Romania joined the EU in 2007.

Official results showed that 87.55 percent of those who took part in Sunday's referendum had voted in favor of Basescu's impeachment, while only 11.12 percent had rallied to the president's cause.

But, according to the returns from more than 97 percent of polling stations, turnout reached 46.13 percent — short of the 50 percent of the 18.3 million electorate required for the result to be validated by the constitutional court.

The referendum was the culmination of weeks of political feuding between the conservative president and 39-year-old Ponta's USL coalition, which took power in May and quickly moved against Basescu.

Brussels and Washington attacked the government's campaign and voiced doubt over the democratic credentials of Romania, which only joined the EU in 2007, making it the bloc's newest member.

Ponta said on Monday he had "learnt all the lessons" from the criticism by the European Union, which said his government's moves "have shaken our trust."

He also admitted that Romania's international image had been "tainted" by the impeachment referendum.

Even before the publication of the official results, Basescu, of the centre-right PDL party, had declared victory in surviving a second impeachment attempt in five years.

Ponta had said earlier Monday that he and his rival could not work together, arguing the president had lost all legitimacy.

Basescu says he will cooperate with the USL provided its leaders "prove they want to reinforce the state, mend what they broke, observe the constitution and legislation."

The 60-year-old Basescu was one of the country's most popular politicians but his approval ratings plummeted amid austerity cuts in 2010. He lost his parliamentary support in May this year when a right-wing government was ousted in a vote of confidence.

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