- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Romanian progress

Romanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru is awaiting the final results from Sunday’s elections but is relieved that election officials yesterday dismissed charges of widespread fraud.

Mr. Ducaru said the presidential and parliamentary elections show his country is a mature democracy, and he rejected comparisons to neighboring Ukraine, which is in a political crisis over disputed elections.

He noted that European observers gave the election generally high marks, although they raised questions about the possibility that some voters cast more than one ballot.

Opposition leaders yesterday demanded a new election and accused the ruling Social Democrats of widespread fraud. The Romanian Elections Bureau dismissed those claims, the ambassador said.

Mr. Ducaru is also proud that Romanians rejected a political party accused of promoting racial division.

“Romania has evolved since [the last election in] 2000 toward a political system with parliamentary political formations among two major political poles, both of which have relevant democratic and reformist credentials,” Mr. Ducaru said, and Romania will have a “younger, more energetic generation in the governing coalition and a stronger opposition.”

With 90 percent of the vote counted yesterday, the country was basically divided between a center-left alliance, which was leading with 36 percent of the vote, and a center-right coalition, which trailed with 31 percent.

A party representing the Hungarian minority polled only 6 percent but could hold the key to a future parliamentary coalition, Mr. Ducaru said.

The ultranationalist Greater Romania Party suffered the greatest setback as its percentage of the vote fell to 13 percent from 26.4 percent in 2000.

That party “is not in the position of kingmaker,” Mr. Ducaru said.

In the presidential election, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase of the center-right coalition is leading opposition candidate Traian Basescu, but neither received a majority of the vote. They are expected to face each other in a Dec. 12 runoff.

If Mr. Nastase wins, he is expected to appoint Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana as prime minister, Mr. Ducaru said. Mr. Geoana is the former Romanian ambassador to the United States.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the election “professional and efficiently organized” but called for an “appropriate administrative and judicial” investigation of fraud charges.

Osama’s hole

The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan is convinced that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is hiding in a cave somewhere in a remote border region with Afghanistan and that his capture is imminent.

“We have to look for him in the right hole,” Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker told reporters yesterday in his first press conference since arriving in Pakistan three weeks ago. “That day is not far off when we will reach that hole.”

Mr. Crocker’s reference to a “hole” was an allusion to the hiding place where U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Saddam was found in a hole on the grounds of a farm in December 2003.

The ambassador added that the capture of bin Laden will not eliminate the threat from his al Qaeda terrorist network, which was responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

“The problem of terrorism will not end with his capture,” Mr. Crocker said. “There is a network, which is dangerous. To think al Qaeda will not exist after the capture of Osama is not right. We have to keep chasing it.”

Bin Laden has been on the run since the United States disrupted his base of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, when U.S. forces overthrew the ruling Taliban regime, which was sheltering him.

Mr. Crocker is a former ambassador to Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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