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Romanian president suspended

By Liliana Ciobanu, For CNN
updated 9:10 PM EDT, Fri July 6, 2012
Romanian president Traian Basescu prepares to deliver a speech in front of the Romanian Parliament, on July 6, 2012.
Romanian president Traian Basescu prepares to deliver a speech in front of the Romanian Parliament, on July 6, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Parliament votes to suspend the president
  • NEW: Referendum vote within 30 days will decide his fate
  • The move marks the latest in a series of attacks between the prime minister and the president
  • The coalition holds a comfortable majority in parliament

Bucharest, Romania (CNN) -- Romania's president Traian Basescu was suspended on Friday, after the impeachment motion filed by the ruling coalition passed the Parliament's vote.

Romania's coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals argued their action by saying that President Traian Basescu has breached the Constitution and overstepped his authority.

The motion passed with 256 votes, 39 more than the minimum required. The country is expected to hold a referendum on July 29, when Romanians will have to vote whether they want Basescu to remain in office.

During the suspension, National Liberal Party leader Crin Antonescu, who is also the president of the Senate, will assume the interim presidency. Earlier this week, Antonescu was appointed the president of the Senate. This position allows him to assume the president's attributions, in case the latter is suspended, according to the Constitution.

Crin Antonescu said on Friday he is ready to step out of politics if Basescu wins the referendum.

During his speech in parliament, before the vote, Basescu accused the ruling coalition of taking control of the country's judicial system and public institutions.

He also expressed concern about the country's state of law and said this political turmoil will have long-term negative impacts on Romania.

"Take care of the country!" Basescu said at the end of his speech. It is the second time Basescu has faced suspension since he took the power, eight years ago. The first time was in 2007, after which he won a referendum and returned to office.

Earlier on Friday, Romania's Constitutional Court gave an ambiguous statement regarding the constitutional status of this impeachment motion. The judges approved some of the points from the motion, but they didn't make it clear whether Basescu has violated the Constitution or not. In any case, the Court played an advisory role this time, leaving the final word to the Parliament. The court issued a statement saying that one of its judges, Aspazia Cojocaru, received threats prior to court debates on the impeachment motion.

The political developments sparked controversy in the international community. On Friday, the European Commission expressed concern about the country's political turmoil, "especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court."

The Commission's President Jose Manuel Barosso invited Romanian Prime Minister Ponta to Brussels next week to hold talks regarding the country's political developments.

This after Ponta was accused of trying to dismantle the Constitutional Court by changing some of its judges.

U.S. Ambassador to Romania Mark Gitenstein, said he was "deeply concerned" that the independence of the country's democratic institutions was under threat.

In the meantime, hundreds of people protested on Friday, expressing their concern about the country's political crisis. While some Romanians believe the government is not respecting the rule of law and democratic principles, others expressed their support for the ruling coalition and called for Basescu to step down.

Earlier this week Romania's Parliament passed a law making it easier to impeach Basescu, a decision that sparked some controversy. In addition, the prime minister accused some Constitutional Court judges of political bias and incompatibility and suggested that they should be replaced.

The ruling coalition this week sacked the heads of both chambers of Parliament, who were Basescu allies, and replaced them with politicians close to the prime minister.

It also dismissed the country's ombudsman, whom it accused of political bias. The newly appointed ombudsman, Valer Dorneanu, is a former Social Democrat member of Parliament.

Basescu's suspension is the latest in a series of attacks between the prime minister and the president. The two men also argued over who was entitled to represent Romania at last month's meeting of the European Council in Brussels. Ponta received parliament's vote to go to Brussels on behalf of the country, but the Constitutional Court ruled the president had the right to attend the event. In the end, the prime minister ignored the court's ruling and traveled to Brussels.

Romania's government became the object of international criticism after the prime minister was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. Ponta dismissed the accusation as a political attack from Basescu.

The country's political turmoil has dropped Romania's currency, Leu, to the lowest level in the last two weeks.

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