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Romania's Top Court Says Government Threatening Rule Of Law

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta
Romania's Constitutional Court has accused leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta of trying to dismantle it and said it has notified EU authorities of threats to its independence.

Ponta, who is facing calls to resign over accusations of plagiarism, ignored a court ruling last week ordering that his political opponent center-right President Traian Basescu could represent Romania at a European Council meeting and traveled to Brussels regardless.

Attacks On Judiciary

Ponta's ex-communist Social Democratic Party (PSD) has since threatened to replace some judges, accusing them of political bias.

The court said in a statement on July 3 that its judges "have noted the virulent attacks the court was subjected to by the government and other public institutions as well as propositions made to dismantle the court."

The statement said the court has appealed to a Council of Europe advisory body on constitutional matters.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on July 3 said she was "seriously concerned" about attacks on the court's independence.

'Miners' Crackdown'

Also on July 3, PSD and his liberal ally, PNL, sacked the opposition speakers of both chambers of parliament in an escalating feud that has raised fears about the state of Romania's democracy.

Basescu, who has been at odds with Ponta's coalition since it took office in May after the previous center-right government fell following a no-confidence vote, urged his rivals to halt their attack against the rule of law.

Basescu likened the ex-communists' actions to the infamous miners' crackdown on Bucharest protesters in 1990, instigated by then-president Ion Iliescu, who is regarded as PSD's founding father.

Basescu warned that the final goal of Ponta's coalition was to impeach him and take control of the judiciary.

In a separate move on July 3, the government also sacked Romania's ombudsman, whom it accused of political bias.

U.S. Ambassador to Bucharest Mark Gitenstein reacted by saying he was “deeply concerned" by threats to the independence of Romania's democratic institutions.

The government's moves against the judiciary come after the Supreme Court, in a step hailed as ground-breaking for the former communist country, sentenced ex-premier Adrian Nastase, Ponta's mentor and former boss, to two years in jail for corruption last month.

Accusations Of Plagiarism

Ponta's government has also triggered international condemnation after attempting to shift Romania's internationally recognized Cultural Institute (ICR) from under the presidency's patronage.

Ponta is at the center of a separate scandal after British science magazine "Nature" accused him of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis in 2003.

Ponta, who had vowed to lead Romania's "most honest government after 1989," has brushed off the accusation as a political attack originating from the presidency.

However, amid previous plagiarism scandals in the EU such as those which forced German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor Guttenberg and Hungarian President Pal Schmitt out of office recently, domestic and international pressure has been mounting on Ponta to resign.

Two education ministers from his government have already been forced out in succession since May after proof emerged that they had plagiarized their scientific papers and lied about their academic qualifications.

With additional reporting by Reuters and AFP

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