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Romania's government 'working' to calm EU fears

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(BUCHAREST) - Romania's government was "working" on Friday to answer European demands to respect the rule of law as a new row arose on the referendum called to oust suspended president Traian Basescu.

"We are working at this moment to finalise the answers we promised to the European Commission", the government told AFP without saying when it intended to send the document to Brussels.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday asked Victor Ponta's centre-left government for firm commitments to respect the rule of law following its moves to dump Basescu, curb the powers of the Constitutional Court and replace key officials.

Ponta had gone to Brussels in a bid to resolve what analysts are calling the worst crisis yet between the EU and Romania, a former communist dictatorship that joined the bloc in 2007.

EU leaders urged him among other things to immediately restore the powers of the Constitutional Court, to respect all its decisions and to appoint a national ombudsman respected by all parties.

Ponta's governement was also asked to stop using emergency decrees to impose changes on state institutions as it has done in the past two weeks, according to RFI Romania radio.

The Commission said Ponta should ensure that a decision of the top court requiring at least 50 percent of the electorate to validate the July 29 referendum on the impeachment of his rival Basescu would be implemented.

Ponta has repeatedly pledged he would respect the decision on minimum turnout, which analysts say might make Basescu's sacking more difficult in a country where voters are often reluctant to go to the polls.

But his decision to ask parliament to deal with the issue raised criticism that the ruling coalition was trying to delay or avoid implementing the court's ruling.

"Interim president Crin Antonescu should just promulgate the law according to the court's recommendations. That is the usual way and it is faster than asking parliament to meet in an extraordinary session", Laura Stefan, a lawyer working for the Expert Forum think tank, told AFP.

The political feud between Ponta and Basecu flared after a new centre-left coalition came to power when the previous centre-right admininistration lost a confidence vote in May.

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