Romania’s ex-president prosecuted for crime against humanity

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A former Romanian president appeared on Wednesday before the nation’s top court, which is prosecuting him for crimes against humanity during a bloody anti-government protest 25 years ago in which six people died and hundreds of others were injured.

Ion Iliescu, 85, went to the High Court of Cassation and Justice on Wednesday to hear charges connected to the violent repression of the June 1990 protest. He denies wrongdoing, but made no statements during the session.  

A court statement said Iliescu is being prosecuted for the deaths of four people, the shooting of three others and depriving 1,000 people of their freedom. Prosecutors haven’t explained why Iliescu is being charged with four deaths rather than six deaths, which have been consistently reported.

The head of the Romanian Intelligence Service at the time, Virgil Magureanu, a close ally of Iliescu, also appeared before the court. Asked whether he was guilty of crimes against humanity, he said: “That’s a stupid question.” Later Wednesday, the defense minister at the time, Victor Stanculescu, also appeared before the court. He told reporters prosecutors had cited him as a suspect in the case.

Club-wielding coal miners and police broke up a weekslong pro-democracy protest in Bucharest, arresting and beating thousands of people. Afterward, Iliescu thanked the miners, drawing criticism at home and abroad. Romanian television stations on Wednesday replayed footage of Iliescu thanking the miners.

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Romania to pay compensation to victims. The case was never properly investigated because of the continued presence of former communists in government. But in March, military prosecutors announced they had reopened the case.

Thousands of Romanians emigrated after the riots amid doubts about Romania’s commitment to democracy six months after the ouster and execution of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Iliescu was elected president of Romania three times, serving from 1990 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004.

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