Romania government honors ex-king on 91st birthday

Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:41am EDT
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By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania renamed a square in central Bucharest after former King Michael to celebrate his 91st birthday on Thursday, 65 years after Soviet-backed communists forced him to abdicate.

Although a return to monarchy is not on the public agenda in the EU member state, Romanian politicians are divided over their attitudes towards Michael.

While right-wing President Traian Basescu has criticized the former king for leaving the throne and last year did not attend Michael's first speech in parliament since his 1947 abdication, a leftist government showed support for the former monarch.

"Let's send him the warmest birthday wishes and sincere congratulations for what he did for Romania throughout history," said Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is favored to win a December election against Basescu's rightist allies.

"King Michael I is a living symbol of Romania," Ponta said on his Facebook page.

Born in 1921 in the Peles castle in the Carpathian mountains, Michael is a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty and a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

The king played a major part in changing Romania's fate in the World War Two, participating in a 1944 coup to overthrow fascist wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, after which Romania broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.

After communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in a violent revolution in 1989, Romanian politicians fearing Michael's influence blocked his first few attempted visits after decades of exile in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.   Continued...

Romania's former king Michael waves to his supporters after a ceremony in downtown Bucharest October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel