Romanian govt falls in no-confidence vote

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Romania's government fell Friday in a no-confidence vote, as opposition parties seized on widespread public anger over biting austerity measures and corruption. The Czech government survived a similar vote.

Thousands of people have protested in both countries in recent months, calling for their governments to abandon the belt-tightening measures and resign in some of the biggest rallies seen since the overthrow of communism in 1989.

In Bucharest, some 235 lawmakers voted against Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, four more votes than needed. Romania's national currency, the leu, fell close to an all-time low on the news.

Opposition leader Victor Ponta said the victory represented the end "of an abusive system that uses any weapon possible."

"Sometimes there is justice. Today there was justice," he declared.

Former Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc, whose 4-year-old government was toppled in February after weeks of often violent protests over austerity measures, called the vote "a victory for opportunism in politics and party swapping."

President Traian Basescu called for calm, nominated Ponta as the prime minister-designate and asked him to present a governing program and Cabinet to Parliament for approval.

"There was a democratic process in Parliament. There is no reason for panic. Romania's finance ministry has substantial reserves that can cope with any event," Basescu said.

Ponta pledged to "give Romanians hope that in Romania things are going in the right direction."

Romania took a €20 billion ($26 billion) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009 when its economy shrank 7 percent. The government has hiked the sales tax to 24 percent and slashed public sector wages by one-fourth in 2010 to meet the conditions of the loan, angering many Romanians.

The IMF and European Commission said in a statement they expected Romania to "continue to observe its economic policy commitments to its international partners."

The Czech government passed its no-confidence vote Friday despite growing public anger against austerity measures and corruption. After nine hours of a heated debate, 105 lawmakers voted in favor of the right-leaning government to avoid early elections while 93 were against it.

Prime Minister Petr Necas vowed to continue with reforms and spending cuts.

"We have to take the steps today. If we postpone them, we will have to adopt them anyway but they will be much more painful," he told lawmakers.

About 100,000 people rallied in Prague on Saturday, calling on the government to scrap its spending cuts and resign. The following day, the three parties in the center-right government dissolved their coalition.

Czechs are angry about a sales tax hike and an extra 7 percent income tax slapped on high earners. The government has also increased pensions and introduced a new entrance fee for university students.


Karel Janicek reported from Prague.