Romanian president in fresh controversy

Even as he overcame a weekend referendum seeking to remove him from office, Traian Basescu, Romania’s president, strode into fresh controversy on Saturday after a confrontation with a journalist that allegedly involved racist remarks.

In an incident that underlined critics’ claims that Mr Basescu’s explosive temperament makes him a divisive figure, the populist politician seized a mobile telephone being used by a reporter to record an interview with him as he was shopping with his wife.

Mr Basescu then left apparently unaware that the phone was still recording his conversation with his wife. After the phone was returned to the reporter’s television station, the recording revealed that Mr Basescu had called the journalist a “stinking Gypsy”.

The incident prompted an organisation representing the country’s Roma minority to file a complaint with the government’s anti-discrimination agency, which said it would summon Mr Basescu for an explanation. The head of Romania’s press association accused Mr Basescu of criminal behaviour in seizing the reporter’s telephone.

Mr Basescu on Monday issued an apology, saying his words did not represent his attitude toward the Roma community.

The president is expected to return to office on Tuesday following confirmation of the results from Saturday’s referendum in which he won 74 per cent of votes cast. The referendum was triggered after parliament voted to suspend him in April for alleged abuse of office.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, congratulated Mr Basescu for winning the referendum but called on Romania to concentrate on fulfilling promises made when it joined the EU in January.

Romania must still implement reforms cementing judicial independence and strengthening the fight against corruption if it is to avoid penalty clauses written into its accession treaty.

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