Pakistan power cuts prompt violent protests

from the FT..

By Rahul Jacob in Lahore and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

Pakistan power

Ramadan usually offers a respite from power cuts in Pakistan, but this year people have taken to the streets to protest against having had no electricity for up to 20 hours a day in temperatures soaring into the 40Cs.  Angry mobs demonstrated in the northern cities of Peshawar and Jhelum at the weekend, while in another incident outside Lahore, protesters blocked one of the country’s main arteries for four hours until the police arrived.

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Romanian President Survives Ouster Bid

fromal..The Wall Street Journal

By Gordon Fairclough

BUCHAREST—Romania’s president narrowly survived a referendum aimed at removing him from office, an outcome heavily influenced by the intervention of the European Union, which criticized the attempt to oust him as a threat to the rule of law in this young democracy.

A large majority of those who voted in Sunday’s referendum cast imageballots against President Traian Basescu. But overall turnout failed to meet the threshold of more than 50% required for the vote to be legally binding, election officials said.

“Those who organized this failed coup should be held responsible before state institutions,” Mr. Basescu, a 60-year-old veteran center-right leader, declared Monday, in a sign of the acrimonious atmosphere that threatens further political turmoil. Partisan feuding between Mr. Basescu’s camp and a left-leaning alliance led by new Prime Minister Victor Ponta escalated in June into an effort to force Mr. Basescu from office, sparking concerns in Washington and Brussels that democratic checks and balances were being undermined.

EU officials pushed Mr. Ponta to roll back a series of rapid legislative and other maneuvers designed to make it easier to eject Mr. Basescu, who was suspended by Parliament in early July after lawmakers said he had overstepped his constitutional authority.

A critical EU demand was that Romania reinstate rules requiring that a majority of registered voters participate in the recall referendum for the results to be valid. Mr. Ponta agreed, against the wishes of some in his coalition, and the new law was enacted before Sunday’s vote.

With Mr. Basescu calling on his supporters to boycott the vote and millions of Romanians living abroad, the turnout standard was difficult to meet. Almost eight million people, or about 46% of the country’s registered voters, participated, and 88% voted against Mr. Basescu, authorities said.

“The role of the EU was absolutely decisive,” said Sorin Ionita, a political analyst at Expert Forum, a public-policy think tank in Bucharest. “It disproves the theory that the EU has no leverage on members after accession. It has influence when it decides to use it.”

In other cases, the EU has struggled to prevent what it sees as backsliding on democratic values, especially among the bloc’s newer, once-communist members. It has skirmished with Hungary on issues ranging from media freedom to the independence of the judiciary for more than a year.

But its diplomatic pressure campaign worked with Romania, which joined the group in 2007 and is eager to become part of its passport-free Schengen travel zone. The EU is also a major contributor to bailout loans that rescued the country from the brink of insolvency in 2009.

Prime Minister Ponta said Monday that he thought EU leaders had been “misinformed” about his party’s actions but said he wouldn’t dispute the EU’s right to act. “Sometimes the commission should be very harsh,” he said, referring to the EU’s executive arm.

The European Commission didn’t comment Monday on the outcome of the plebiscite, which still must be certified by the Constitutional Court.

Mr. Ponta said he wouldn’t dispute the results of the referendum and wouldn’t seek new confrontation with Mr. Basescu. But further quarreling could be hard to avoid as campaigning begins for national parliamentary elections that are due by November.

Recent political uncertainty has helped push the Romanian currency, the leu, to record lows against the euro, as investors question the government’s ability to move forward with measures to shore up state finances and boost the economy.

EU and International Monetary Fund officials are due in Bucharest this week to review Romania’s precautionary aid deal, under which the country has promised to curb its budget deficit and to pursue longer-term changes such as the privatization of state enterprises.In an interview with The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations Monday, Mr. Ponta said that after the referendum, “the political legitimacy of the president will be very clearly weakened,” adding: “We can go forward with much more confidence that people support us.”

The 39-year-old Social Democrat expressed wariness about his rival’s intentions. “I don’t know how he’s going to behave,” said Mr. Ponta, whose supporters blame Mr. Basescu for orchestrating plagiarism allegations against the prime minister—charges he denies.

As president, Mr. Basescu has authority over foreign affairs, makes judicial appointments and has the power to delay legislation he doesn’t like.

“I hope he’s not going to use his tools to delay or stop our reforms,” Mr. Ponta said. “Everyone is going to lose if we continue to fight,” he said.

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Romania impeachment vote falls short, president says

from CNN International..

By the CNN Wire Staff

Supporters of Romanian PM Victor Ponta listen to him at a rally in Bucharest Thursday in favor of impeaching the president.

Supporters of Romanian PM Victor Ponta listen to him at a rally in Bucharest Thursday in favor of impeaching the president.


(CNN) — Embattled Romanian President Traian Basescu declared victory late Sunday after low voter turnout appeared to doom a referendum on whether to remove him from office.

The Central Electoral Bureau estimated turnout at 45.9%, short of the majority of registered voters needed for the vote to be valid. Basescu had urged his supporters to boycott the polls, telling reporters, “The best help today is to stay home.”

After the polls closed at 11 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), he said voters had rejected a “coup” by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the interim president, Crin Antonescu. Asked if he was certain about the figures, he told them, “I’m never wrong.”

Election officials’ estimate was based on a survey of nearly 3,000 polling stations across the country, about 6% of the precincts. They estimated their sampling error at about 3 percentage points.

Exit polls from Romanian television stations indicated turnout was about 44% late Sunday, and that the overwhelming majority of those voting favored Basescu’s impeachment. That led Ponta to say Basescu “should strongly consider whether he is still legitimate or not in the office.”

“I believe that any politician that says he can ignore the voice of almost 9 million people is totally unrealistic,” Ponta said.

Ponta’s Social Liberal Union (USL) disputed the turnout figures, saying it had estimated 9.2 million people had voted — slightly over 50% — which would mean Basescu would be ousted. Final results are expected Monday.

Basescu has been suspended since the USL-led parliament voted to impeach him in early July, saying he overstepped his authority by ordering wage and benefit cuts for public workers. Basescu said the measures were needed to meet the terms of a $24 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund for the cash-strapped country, but the move soured many Romanians on his leadership.

Romanian president suspended

Opponents also accuse Basescu of cronyism. He took office eight years ago and has already survived one effort to remove him, in 2007.

The latest crisis in the southeastern European nation — slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Oregon — has sent its currency, the leu, plummeting to record lows.

Romanian president faces impeachment

Two pro-Basescu governments have collapsed, paving the way for Ponta’s center-left USL to take office. Ponta succeeded in getting lawmakers to not only suspend Basescu, but to remove both speakers of parliament and replace them with allies.

In voting Sunday, Ponta expressed anger that the prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Viktor Orban, had urged Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority not to vote.

“I want Romanians to decide their own fate,” Ponta said.

Ponta is dealing with his own controversy: He has been accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. He has dismissed the accusation as a political attack from Basescu.

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Recall Referendum Test for Romania

from The Wall Street Journal..

By Gordon Fairclough

Romanians will vote Sunday on whether to oust their country’s president as part of an impeachment process that the European Union says threatens to undermine the former communist-bloc nation’s young democracy.

The nationwide recall referendum comes amid a partisan feud between a resurgent left, led by new Prime Minister Victor Ponta, and center-right politicians, including President Traian Basescu, whose popularity has been severely dented by austerity measures and a weak economy.

Recent legislative and political maneuvers carried out by Mr. Ponta’s supporters and designed to make it easier to remove Mr. Basescu have drawn fire from critics inside and outside Romania who say the moves endanger the rule of law and judicial independence.

Under pressure from the EU, which Romania joined in 2007, Mr. Ponta, a 39-year-old Social Democrat, agreed to roll back measures the regional group found objectionable. However, a parliamentary vote to impeach Mr. Basescu, which triggered Sunday’s ballot, remains in force.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Wednesday that Brussels is “still very much worried on the state of democracy in Romania.”

imageAgence France-Presse/Getty Images

Romanian President Traian Basescu speaks at a rally in Bucharest last week ahead of a vote this weekend.

The political feuding, which has preoccupied the government, also has pushed the Romanian currency, the leu, to record lows against the euro, as investors question whether the authorities will be able to move forward with necessary economic restructuring measures.

Public-opinion polls indicate that more than 60% of Romanians favor removing the president. But for the referendum to be valid, more than half the country’s registered voters must cast ballots, a threshold that could be hard to meet, with backers of the president calling for a boycott.

In moving to impeach Mr. Basescu, Parliament found he had exceeded his constitutional authority by, among other things, involving himself in affairs that are the province of the prime minister.

Mr. Basescu, who survived a previous impeachment attempt in 2007, has said he is the victim of politicians seeking to thwart an anticorruption campaign that recently resulted in a prison sentence for a former leftist prime minister, Adrian Nastase. Mr. Ponta’s supporters deny that.

The prime minister’s backers in turn have accused the president of orchestrating allegations that Mr. Ponta plagiarized large sections of his doctoral dissertation in an effort to discredit him. The premier denies that he plagiarized.

If Mr. Basescu remains in office, it could result in an awkward and contentious cohabitation with Mr. Ponta. Mr. Ponta’s left-leaning alliance is favored to win national parliamentary elections due by November. Mr. Basescu’s term is set to expire in 2014.

“Certainly, tensions would continue,” said Otilia Simkova, a London-based analyst at political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “A stalemate on the political scene would continue and it could result in another crisis at some point.”

Romanian politics have been in turmoil all year, as public anger at tax increases, government spending cuts and alleged corruption and cronyism resulted in the resignation of one center-right prime minister and the fall of another in a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The economic downturn and the strict terms of a bailout loan by the EU and International Monetary Fund that saved the country from the brink of insolvency in 2009 have hit especially hard in Romania, the second-poorest member of the EU after Bulgaria.

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Rwanda: An isolated autocrat

from the FT..

By William Wallis and Katrina Manson

Paul Kagame faces losing vital aid over accusations he armed Congo’s rebellion.

Je ne regrette rien: UN reports say President Paul Kagame’s army killed tens of thousands of Rwandans and Congolese while securing his country’s borders – but he remains unapologetic about his record.
In 2006, a law was introduced to the US legislature individually sponsored by senator – and future president – Barack Obama. It passed almost unnoticed.But the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act may now have found its moment, as Rwanda has been accused of helping to foment a fresh rebellion in neighbouring eastern Congo.

The Netherlands: Rwanda Aid Cut

from The New York Times..
Published: July 27, 2012

The Netherlands says it is suspending $6.1 million in aid to Rwanda over what it says is the government’s support of a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, expressed regret on Friday at “hasty decisions based on flimsy evidence” by donors suspending or deferring aid. The United States cut $200,000 in military aid last week. United Nations experts say Rwanda is supporting a Congolese rebellion that has displaced 260,000 people.

A version of this brief appeared in print on July 28, 2012, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: The Netherlands: Rwanda Aid Cut.

Zimbabwe: Curbs on Aid Are Lifted

from The New York Times..
Published: July 23, 2012

The European Union lifted curbs on aid to Zimbabwe on Monday and held out the prospect of removing sanctions on Zimbabwean officials to encourage political reform, though not on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said the broader relaxation of sanctions would depend on a “peaceful and credible” referendum on constitutional changes.

A version of this brief appeared in print on July 24, 2012, on page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: Zimbabwe: Curbs on Aid Are Lifted.