Romania government moves to suspend, impeach president
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's leftist government will seek to suspend and then impeach the country's centre-right president, a powerful opponent of the ruling Social Liberal Union (USL), stoking a row that has paralyzed policymaking.
The USL's majority in parliament means it can easily win a vote to suspend President Traian Basescu for a month, and will then hold a national referendum on impeachment.
In power since May and favorite to win an election later this year, the party has passed a law to make it easier to impeach Basescu, who influenced the previous austerity-minded government despite his ceremonial role.
The new law is still pending judgment by the country's constitutional court (CCR), which says its independence is under threat from the government.
"We have decided ... to ask parliament to set an extraordinary meeting to suspend the Romanian president," USL lawmaker Eugen Nicolaescu was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres. The process could last several days.
Basescu was previously suspended in 2007 but easily defeated the impeachment attempt in the referendum.
A new USL law states that a simple majority of voters in a referendum would be enough to impeach Basescu, which the CCR has yet to rule on. Until now, a majority of the entire electorate was needed to impeach the president, whether they voted or not.
The government - led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta - has also attacked the CCR and said it was under Basescu's control, but backtracked on plans to replace judges on Wednesday after the court accused Ponta and his party of trying to dismantle it.
The CCR has notified European authorities of threats to its independence and rights groups and some Western diplomats have also criticized the government.
The USL has committed to Romania's International Monetary Fund-led aid deal but questions over economic policy and easing austerity have kept the leu currency under pressure, it fell 0.5 percent on Wednesday, and borrowing costs rose.
Ponta, who is facing calls to resign over plagiarism charges, had ignored the court's ruling last week that Basescu was entitled to represent Romania at a European Council meeting and travelled to Brussels regardless.
The USL said Ponta has asked the justice minister to withdraw complaints against CCR judges.
"The prime minister wants, in this manner, to send a firm signal of absolute respect for the independence of democratic institutions and integrity of the Romanian justice system," it said in a statement.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)
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