Romanian voters are set to elect a new president in a run-off vote which pits social democrat PM Victor Ponta against centre-right candidate Klaus Iohannis.
PM Victor Ponta led in the first round with 40% to 30% for Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German mayor.
The social democrat has promised both to reduce the budget deficit and increase pensions and the minimum wage.
President Traian Basescu, Victor Ponta’s long-time political foe, cannot stand for re-election after serving two terms.
Since taking office as prime minister two years ago, Victor Ponta, 42, has overseen economic growth and political stability in Romania.
Klaus Iohannis, 55, has promised to crack down on wrongdoing and strengthen the independence of the judicial system.
However, critics accuse the mayor of Sibiu, a town of around 155,000 people in Transylvania, of seeking to avoid confrontation with the outspoken Victor Ponta, who has maintained his lead in opinion polls.
As prime minister, Victor Ponta often feuded with President Traian Basescu and their poor relations delayed much-needed reforms in the public sector.
Romanian PM Victor Ponta has denied allegations that two abattoirs in his country sold horsemeat purporting to be beef to European food companies.
Victor Ponta said checks had been carried out and there had been no breach of rules and standards.
The abattoirs had been linked to the contamination of processed meat products sold in Europe.
UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to update MPs on the horsemeat scandal later on Monday.
The discovery of horsemeat in beef products has led to processed food being withdrawn from sale in Britain, France and Sweden.
Victor Ponta expressed anger that Romania had been blamed.
“From all the data we have at the moment, there is no breach of European rules committed by companies from Romania or on Romanian territory,” he told a news conference.
“I am very angry, to be honest.”
In France, the government has summoned meat industry representatives for crisis talks. Seven French supermarket chains have already withdrawn frozen ready meals made by Findus and food supplier Comigel.
An initial investigation found the meat originated from Romania. French investigators have visited two companies involved in the import and processing of meat to try to establish at what stage the horsemeat was labeled as beef.
Romanian PM Victor Ponta has denied allegations that two abattoirs in his country sold horsemeat purporting to be beef to European food companies
The UK government says that an “extensive” criminal conspiracy may have taken place.
UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “This is a case of fraud and a conspiracy against the public, this is a criminal action, substituting one material for another.”
Legal action is set to begin in continental Europe on Monday, he added.
The controversy surrounding contamination of meat products has also affected firms in the Irish Republic and Poland.
Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.
Owen Paterson said a factory in Luxembourg, which has been linked to the French cases, had to issue warnings to 16 different countries. He said he did not know how widespread the problem was but “we have to be prepared for more unwelcome news”.
Tests were continuing and it was the responsibility of the retailers to “convince their consumers of the validity and quality of their products”, he said.
Owen Paterson added that the UK’s Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) advice was to continue buying and eating processed beef products, but if any evidence of a serious threat to health emerged “we will act very swiftly”.
The FSA has ordered food businesses to conduct authenticity tests on all beef products for significant levels of horsemeat and the deadline for the first set of results is Friday 15 February.
Last week Findus UK took its frozen beef lasagne, made by Comigel, off the shelves after some were found to have up to 100% horsemeat in them.
Findus UK said the only product on sale in the UK using ingredients from the French supplier had been its beef lasagne and all other beef products on sale in the UK had been DNA-tested and cleared.
The FSA has asked Findus to test their contaminated beef lasagne for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone as animals treated with “bute” are not allowed to enter the food chain. The results are expected in the next few days.
The Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, said: “It’s understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasize that, even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health.”
Polling stations have opened in Romania in the country’s parliamentary elections.
Opinion polls suggest a large win for the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Senate President Crin Antonescu.
But the result could trigger renewed political instability as Romania negotiates a vital loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Victor Ponta and so called centre-right President Traian Basescu have been bitter enemies since Ponta’s government tried to impeach the president last July.
Analysts say that, in the event of Victor Ponta’s Social Liberal Union (USL) winning, the president may ask someone other than Ponta to form a government.
President Traian Basescu has said clearly he will use his powers to appoint a prime minister “in the national interest”.
Given the enmity the president feels towards Victor Ponta and his coalition, it is hard to imagine he has the leader of the Social Liberal Union (USL) in mind.
However, any attempt to appoint someone else may result in a constitutional crisis.
If the USL wins a clear majority, analysts say the president may ask someone other than Victor Ponta from within USL to become prime minister, using the argument that the USL is not a party but a coalition.
Opinion polls in Romania suggest a large win for the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta
If the USL falls short of a majority, Traian Basescu could ask one of his allies in the Right Romania Alliance (ARD) to try to form a coalition.
Opinion polls have put the ARD in second place, but far away vs. USL.
Any prolonged political instability could unnerve markets and threaten a crucial IMF loan agreement.
Romania’s current loan agreement expires in early 2013.
President Traian Basescu barely survived July’s referendum on his impeachment after turnout fell below the 50% needed to validate the vote, even if 7.4 million people were against him.
He said Romanians had “rejected a coup” by staying away from polling stations.
The row between the two men has alarmed Romania’s EU partners and parlayzed political decision-making.
Romania and neighboring Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but Brussels has put both countries under special monitoring because of concerns about judicial independence, corruption and political influence in state institutions.
Romanian MPs have voted with a large majority to impeach the country’s president, Traian Basescu.
President Traian Basescu faced allegations of encroaching on the prime minister’s role and violating citizens’ rights.
Traian Basescu has been suspended and a national poll on his impeachment will be organized most probably on July 29th.
A total of 256 members of parliament of 432 voted in favour of the move against Traian Basescu, according to an official count.
The impeachment will only take effect if approved in the referendum.
The president is in conflict with Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is the co-leader of the Social Liberal Union (USL), which has a majority in parliament.
The European Commission voiced concern about the political turmoil on Friday. Romania joined the EU in 2007 but Brussels has demanded more reforms to stamp out official corruption.
Romanian MPs have voted with a large majority to impeach the country's president, Traian Basescu
PM Victor Ponta, who came to power in May, says President Traian Basescu has too much influence over Romania’s Constitutional Court, which is due to consider new impeachment legislation.
Yesterday, USL asked parliament to hold an extraordinary meeting to suspend Traian Basescu.
Victor Ponta himself is currently under pressure to resign over allegations of plagiarism regarding a doctoral thesis he wrote.
President Traian Basescu has accused him of trying to impeach him as a way of taking control of state institutions.
The president has suffered a slump in his popularity since pushing through tough austerity measures demanded by international lenders in 2010.
The political rivalry has stalled decision-making processes in Romania at a time when it is finalizing agreements on an IMF-backed aid package for its economy.
The European Commission says it is “concerned about current developments in Romania, especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court”.
“The rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of European democracy… Government policy and political action must respect these principles and values.”
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