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Romania president urges MPs to limit their immunity

27 June 2011, 23:12 CET
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(BUCHAREST) - Romanian president Traian Basescu on Monday urged lawmakers to limit their criminal immunity in a bid to fight corruption.

"Many Romanians think that MPs can perpetrate unlawful acts under the shelter of immunity," Basescu said in an address to parliament that was boycotted by the opposition.

"Parliament must show that its members are not above the law," he added, stressing the legislature's credibility was at stake.

The constitution stipulates that lawmakers "can be indicted and sent to court for deeds not related to their votes or political opinions, but cannot be searched, detained or arrested in the absence of a favourable vote of the house of parliament they are a member of."

Basescu has launched procedures to amend the constitution to scrap these exceptions after several investigations by anti-corruption prosecutors targeting MPs were blocked by parliament over the last few years.

In one case, an MP of the ruling PDL party, charged with blackmail and physical aggression, escaped arrest after his peers voted against lifting his immunity.

"No MP should fear this (constitutional amendment), as I don't think any of you runs the risk of being arrested," the president said.

Opposition lawmakers did not attend the parliamentary session, saying they did not wish to hear a monologue by Basescu.

The Constitutional Court has said it opposed the planned amendment as it would deprive lawmakers of a fundamental right.

The court's non-binding ruling was criticized by US ambassador to Romania Mark Gitenstein, who said it "thwarted efforts by the authorities ... to strengthen the administration of justice in the fight against corruption."

Strictly monitored by the European Union since joining the bloc in 2007, Romania has pledged to reform its judiciary and step up efforts against corruption.

The Balkans nation had hoped to join the visa-free Schengen area in March 2011 but countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands blocked its entry, stressing that Bucharest still had to make progress in the fight against corruption.

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