Romanian leaders clash on live TV

Romanian PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu (left) and President Traian Basescu

The very public split threatens the ruling coalition

A war of words between Romanian President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has erupted on live national television. The two former political allies accused each other on air of involvement in dubious multi-million-dollar energy deals.

The outburst happened ahead of a debate in parliament on a motion of impeachment against the president.

Mr Basescu has constantly criticised Mr Tariceanu since the start of 2007.

The setting was innocent enough. Mr Tariceanu was invited to talk on television about the role of Romania’s “media moguls” on Tuesday evening.

However, the discussion quickly turned to the long-running feud dominating political life in Romania, between President Basescu and the prime minister.

Allegations and insults

Mr Tariceanu accused the president of intervening on behalf of an aluminium company, to help it secure a cheap energy deal.

“Every one of us has had to pay for this,” said the prime minister.

Minutes later, the president himself phoned in, to respond live on air.

Just because you are on TV, it doesn’t mean you can say anything you want about me

President Basescu addressing PM Tariceanu

“Excuse me, Mr Prime Minister – I don’t want a nasty scene – but I’m asking you not to lie in public. Just because you are on TV, it doesn’t mean you can say anything you want about me,” Mr Basescu said.

He went on to accuse the prime minister of involvement in dubious contracts himself, and of tolerating what he called “a mafia” in the energy sector.

Impeachment looming

He said that he intervened in the case of the aluminium company in an effort to expose how officials were taking “suitcases full of cash”, in exchange for granting energy contracts.

Then the exchange between the two men got even more bitter and personal.

At one point, the president mocked the prime minister’s appearance.

The episode underlines the deepening rift between the two, threatening the fragile, centre-right coalition government.

The opposition Social Democrats are trying to cash in, by pushing for a referendum on impeaching the president.

The impeachment debate is scheduled to take place on 28 February and if a majority of deputies and senators vote in favour, a referendum has to be held within a month, on whether to remove the president from office.

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