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Trash trouble in downtown Bucharest, Romania

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Borough 1 in Romania’s capital city has been swamped by piles of uncollected waste. The problem has been dragging on for several months with only short respites, writes Bucharest correspondent Cristian Gherasim.

Reminiscent to a smaller scale of the garbage crises in Naples, Italy which has been on for decades, the waste problem in Bucharest saw Borough 1 city hall locking horns with the cleaning company in charge of waste collection. Borough 1 includes the most affluent part of the city which now lies under mountains of trash.

The newly elected mayor said that the issue comes down to the cleaning company charging a disproportionate fee for the services, way above market price, a fee that the city hall now refuses to pay. Furthermore the on and off dispute which puts citizens in a very uncomfortable position has no definitive solution in sight.

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The mayor said she will sue the company for not fulfilling its contract provisions and cancel the agreement but that would also prove cumbersome as the contract can not easily be canceled. Times consuming as it is, any hope of resolving the issue in the court of law doesn’t bring an immediate solution to the problem, keeping the citizens in the same dire situation.

The pressure of the community on the local administration to solve the problem is huge. People rightly want the mayor's office to quickly find solutions to provide basic services: garbage collection, street cleaning. They are not very interested in the details of the crisis, they only see the garbage in front of the house and the dirty streets. It's the kind of crisis that doesn’t win any votes.

So, a double health crisis in borough one: the garbage crisis superimposed over the pandemic.

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Romania has been plagues by a waste management crisis on a national level.

Over the past months, Romanian police seized several containers loaded with unusable waste, shipped to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, from various EU member states. Goods were falsely stated to be plastic waste. The police report showed otherwise, the shipments it in fact contained wood, metal waste and hazardous materials.

Since 2018, when China put in place strict limits on imports of foreign waste, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria have become major destinations for waste exporters. Such incidents picked up significantly over the past year and a half after China implemented the plastic ban.

More and more companies are importing waste to Romania, under the pretext of importing second-hand products, tonnes of scrap electronic equipment, plastics, medical waste, and even toxic substances. All this garbage ends up buried or burned.

Illegal waste imports pollute the very air we breathe. As most of the waste ends up in illegal dumps, the trash is usually burned, with toxins emitted into the air. Bucharest has recorded instances of particulate-matter pollution at more than 1,000 percent above the accepted threshold. And Brussels has repeatedly targeted Romania over air pollution and illegal landfill.

EU Reporter has previously present the case of a community in Romania trying to cope with the issue of waste management by paying cash to citizens helping with waste collection. Ciugud community is indeed answering EU’s call that local communities to step in and take change of their environmental issues.

It is notorious that Romania is one of the European countries with the lowest levels of waste recycling and local authorities are required to pay significant amounts of money annually in fines for non-compliance with EU environmental regulations.

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Bucharest tests large scale music event amid pandemic concerns

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The Romanian capital hosted over the weekend the first large scale music festival since the pandemic started over a year-and-a-half ago, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

For music lovers, the event proved to be a glimmer of hope, bringing back a pre-COVID feeling, before the pandemic restrictions canceled or limited such large scale gatherings.

Over the course of this year, Romania gradually opened up to music festivals scheduled to take part in 2020 but pushed back when the pandemic hit and canceled such gatherings.

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Close to 40.000 people from both Romania and abroad coalesced over the weekend to attend the SAGA Festival – an international electronic dance music event making its debut in the Romanian capital.

The event organizers allowed access based on strict COVID requirements necessary for these kind of gatherings: the EU Digital Covid Certificate- proof that the person has either been vaccinated, received a negative test result, or recovered from Covid-19, a recent PCR test no older than 72h, or a test done on the spot prior to entry valid for 24h.

The festival tested the authority’s ability to cope with the influx of people coming for the music event and to make sure that the large gathering of festival goers doesn’t add to the number of new COVID cases.

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In the first case, Bucharest authorities proved unable to streamline traffic, resulting in the northern part of the Romanian capital experiencing standstill traffic for several hours, with many locals voicing their anger against local authorities. A video posted on social media shows a city brought to a halt by traffic restrictions and authorities’ inability to cope with the influx of people.

Bucharest is trying to deal with a spike in the number of COVID cases after the quiet summer months. Over the past weeks Romania’s capital city saw an increase in the number of cases as ICU beds are quickly filling up. Countrywide, daily new Covid cases have jumped from less than 100 during the summer, to over 2,000.

The festival is scheduled to return next year as this year’s edition was well received by music lovers.

But in the meantime local and national authorities need to weather what looks increasingly as a 4th wave of the pandemic taking hold across the country.

Romania has one of the lowest vaccination-rates in the EU, pushing authorities to sell an excess of around two million vaccines, and donate close to another one million - to avoid unused stocks from hitting their expiration date. Last week, authorities sold another batch of jabs, over 1.5 million to South Korea.

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Entrepreneur Dragos Savulescu secures a victory over Romanian authorities

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Dragos Savulescu (pictured), the entrepreneur and movie producer, and his wife Angela Martini, an author and former Miss Universe Albania, announced on 10 September that a Greek court has blocked an attempt by Romania to extradite him. The decision marks the second time that a European court has rejected an extradition request in his case and ends the latest chapter of what Mr Savulescu describes as a “16-year miscarriage of justice”.

The Aegean Court of Appeal in Syros sided with Mr Savulescu, agreeing that Romania had no power to force his extradition from Greece and ordered an immediate dismissal of a Romanian arrest warrant. Mr Savulescu was arrested on the island of Mykonos on August 9 after a Romanian court submitted a long-defunct warrant related to his conviction in a 2005 land restitution case, charges Mr Savulescu strongly denies. The Naples Court of Appeal, in Italy, where Savulescu is a resident, has previously rejected Romania’s extradition request, while also legally recognizing the case in Italy and applying an amnesty to the sentence under Italian law.

As he left the court in Syros, Dragos Savulescu, 47, said: “We are delighted that the court in Greece has acknowledged that the extradition order is legally without merit, and that I am entitled to return to Italy.

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“Even though the past few weeks have been hell, my arrest in Mykonos has at least proved yet again how the Romanian authorities are prepared to abuse Italian and European law by pursuing a warrant where they have no authority to do so. I am very grateful to the court in Greece, and would like to thank my lawyer, Mr Michalis Dimitrakopoulos for his tremendous work. This experience has only strengthened my resolve to   expose the great abuses in my case and in many others in Romania.”

The couple left Mykonos after the court hearing on Wednesday and have returned to their home in Milan.

His wife, Angela Martini, 35, also spoke of her relief: “I’m so happy. It feels like this nightmare is finally over.”

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As an actor, Mr Savulescu has appeared in films alongside Kevin Costner and Ryan Reynolds. Despite having documents from the Italian authorities to say he was free to travel, he says he was arrested in a Mykonos restaurant in front of his wife and friends in an operation involving over 30 police officers and spent two days under arrest in Syros before being released, pending Wednesday’s decision. Since then, the couple have been living in rented accommodation on the island.

Mr Savulescu says he has been forced to hire bodyguards and suffered years of false allegations that have damaged his business and devastated his family. Among the most recent is a false claim that his wife led Romanian authorities to Mykonos after she posted their location on Instagram. “Our location was not confidential and we had no reason to hide,” said Mr Savulescu, “We had been to France and Switzerland before this trip, posting on Instagram throughout, and then we openly entered Greece by plane – so it’s ridiculous to suggest we were trying to evade the law.” He also dismissed claims that he fled Romania to escape jail, insisting he was already a legal resident of Italy when his sentence was passed in February 2019, nearly 16 years after the case was first launched.

“The Romanian authorities deliberately misinformed the Greek authorities, even though they were aware my situation was legally clarified in Italy. This is an outrageous abuse of international law by the authorities in Romania that are clearly still living in Ceausescu’s times, and part of a campaign to persecute me for a crime I did not commit. Such abuse has been proved today by the Greek court’s decision.”

“The person most affected is my wife,” added Mr Savulescu. “She is a beautiful, loving and amazing human being who has been punished because of my situation. That is a huge burden on me, and this one of the reasons why I am so angry at this injustice.”

Speaking of her husband’s ordeal, Ms Martini said: “Dragos’ arrest in Mykonos was very hard after we have fought for justice for so long. He is a caring man, with a good heart and I love him. For me, love is everything and if you don’t fight for love, what should you fight for? Love is our biggest superpower and with the strength of our love, we’re ready to fight an army.”

The couple, who were married in the United States in 2017, say they are determined to clear Mr Savulescu’s name and to expose the “abusive” system in Romania. “We have been silent for three years, but enough is enough,” said Mr Savulescu. “It’s time to tell the truth about so-called justice in Romania.”

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Romania

No end in sight for Romania’s political chaos

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The twists and turns of the current governmental crisis taking place in the south-eastern European nation are no closer to a clear conclusion, writes Cristian GHerasim, Bucharest correspondent.

With the parliament reconvening to debate a motion of no convince tabled against the Romanian government, PM Cîţu is in a tight spot. His cabinet is hemorrhaging political support, as the second largest party (USR) quit the center-right coalition earlier this week.

The Save Romania Union (USR) and PM Câţu’s National Liberal Party (PNL) together with the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UMDR) came together at the end of 2020 with the purpose of forming a government that would both curb the spread of COVID and improve the standard of living in EU’s second poorest nation.

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USR’s decision to resign on Tuesday from the governing coalition came after its justice minister was swiftly sacked by PM Ciţu. USR has been running on an anti-corruption platform and the firing of its justice minister was seen as an attempt to temper with their governing agenda.

In response, the PM said that the justice minister interfered with an investment program worth €10bn, designed to revamp the country's poor infrastructure. Cîţu said he will not accept any minister that opposed the modernization of Romania.

On the other hand the Save Romania Union party replied that the investment program is nothing more than a sham and the money will go to Cîţu’s political supporters as an incentive to back the PM in the upcoming leadership contest at the head of the PNL party.

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Furthermore, USR together with the populist and nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) tabled a motion of no confidence against the remaining Cîţu cabinet.

To pass, it will need to be backed by 234 MPs. That means USR PLUS and AUR would require significant support, mainly from the opposition Social Democrats(PSD), which has the largest number of MPs. So far, the Social democrats are staying out of the political battle, but pundits believe that PSD is in fact secretly backing PM Cîţu, trying to block a motion of no confidence and negotiating their support for the PM in exchange for governmental leverage.

And as if things weren’t complicated enough, the PM cried foul in Brussels, complaining to EU officials that "the alliance between USR-PLUS and AUR creates the premise for bringing a neo-fascist party to power".

No matter how this crisis will end, the damage is already done. This mess generated a political gridlock hampering the authorities' ability to fight the coronavirus, as well as the rising energy prices. All in all, the government’s plans to stop the spread of coronavirus and improve the lives of Romanians failed.

Meanwhile, as parliamentary parties from both sides of the aisle are locking horns and horse-trading ministerial posts, Romania has recorded a spike in COVID new cases. The country went from less than 100 during the summer, to over 2,000 in just a few days.

The political chaos couldn’t come at a worse time, as ICU beds are quickly filling up and medical staff is left unprepared for a 4th wave of COVID. The outgoing healthcare minister even complained that some of the staff members haven’t received payment in months.

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