Romanian newspapers on Thursday report that after a month-long suspension President Traian Basescu returned to office amid a huge scandal sparked by what critics called racist remarks about a journalist.

Criminal inquiries against communist-era torturers, shady deals aimed at channeling EU structural funds towards selected companies and a “nuclear accident in Russia/Ukraine” hoax also make the front pages today.

On his return to the Cotroceni presidential palace yesterday evening, several days after winning a referendum on his dismissal, Traian Basescu was welcomed back with honor guards, red carpet and a fanfare, Adevarul reports.

He failed to meet the man who served as interim President while he was suspended - Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu.

Gandul couples Basescu’s return to office with the scandal he sparked when he called a Romanian journalist “stinky Gypsy” on the day of the referendum, which had a key anti-discrimination body give him a warning for racist comments yesterday.

Gandul also quotes the Amnesty International-2007 report published yesterday that shows the Gypsy in Romania are still exposed to discrimination and intolerance, according to 2006 data.

Cotidianul reports that President Basescu rejected the warning he received from the National Anti-Discrimination Council yesterday, saying it was “unacceptable that a private talk which would have not led to public effects be the object of analysis for an institution of the Romanian state”.

His stand is based that the “stinky Gypsy” phrase was recorded on the cell phone of the said journalist, which he had put into his pocket and left with in his car. The phone thus recorded his conversation with his wife on leaving the supermarket in Bucharest where the whole situation occurred.

Evenimentul Zilei quotes top Romanian lawyers who say Basescu cannot be prosecuted for temporarily confiscating the journalist’s cell because his deed does not fulfil the criteria to be qualified as theft.

Meanwhile, Romania libera reports that 210 “communist-era torturers” - people who “enforced” communist law in the prisons and labor camps of the period - were officially charged with genocide in a criminal complaint submitted by the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCR) at the Military Prosecutor’s Office yesterday.

Many of the 210, aged between 44-99, may have died and many may have been erroneously included on the list, but that is what the prosecutors have to clear out, IICCR head Stejarel Olaru was quoted as saying.

According to Cotidianul, their acts are considered “crimes against peace and humanity” by using the detention system as a key means to accomplish policies of social extremism for large categories of people.

Elsewhere in the papers, Evenimentul Zilei reports of a “grand intoxication with nuclear radiations” in Romania: a fast spread rumor of a nuclear accident in Ukraine or in the Caucasus, similar to that in Chernobyl two decades ago.

The paper quotes top nuclear officials who explain how this is all a hoax - but a hoax that managed to spread panic in areas across Romania.

Also in the newspapers today:

  • Gandul quotes a Gallup poll that says 72% of Romanians believe the country must set a clear calendar of troops withdrawal from Iraq, in collaboration with its allies in the Gulf country. 13% of Romanians disagree with such a move.
  • Romania libera reports that the Romanian Government approved yesterday a complex but “political” restructuring process at the Foreign Ministry. The paper writes the restructuring sparked discontent among Ministry employees as it is seen as tailored to serve the political interests of the new management.
  • Cotidianul used Yahoo Messenger to interview a top representative of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, main opposition group), Vasile Dancu. Dancu admits that if the PSD would join a post-referendum government right now, it risks complete political failure and disappearance from the political stage.
  • Gandul writes that Turkish companies including Summa Romania and Samko have dodged contributions to the state budget for their mall construction activities in Bucharest by using tax-evasion deals with Gypsy clans in a village near the Romanian capital. The state thus lost millions of euro in taxes, the newspaper claims.
  • Romania libera writes that the interim Presidency served by Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu while President Traian Basescu was suspended allowed the adoption of a new law that eases the access of major business players with political influence to EU structural funds.
    The changed law on public procurement contracts allows key economic operators with strong political connections to have priority in accessing structural funds as other applicants may have their access blocked by a politically controlled body.