Romania king's speech highlights historical split

Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:58am EDT
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By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's aged former King Michael delivered his first speech to parliament Tuesday since Soviet-backed communists forced him to abdicate more than 60 years ago, highlighting deep divisions over the country's past.

While opinion polls show most Romanians do not want the monarchy back, post-communist leaders have tried to limit Michael's influence, fearing he could erode their own power if given a platform.

"We cannot have a future without respecting the past," Michael, 90 and looking sprightly in a suit and striped tie, told a packed parliament on his birthday.

"The royal crown is not a symbol of the past but a unique representation of our independence, sovereignty and unity," said Michael, Europe's oldest former monarch and one of the last surviving World War Two-era heads of state.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum gave the king, who was forced to quit the throne in 1947, a standing ovation before and after his speech and some even took pictures on mobile phones.

Michael's speech was proposed by the opposition Liberals but opposed by the ruling Democrat-Liberals (PDL).

President Traian Basescu, who has close links to the PDL, has criticized the former king for leaving the throne, saying he was "Russia's servant," and did not attend the speech in parliament. Many PDL deputies did attend, however.

"This is a gesture of normality," said Mircea Geoana, speaker of Romania's upper house of parliament. "His Majesty's presence 64 years after his last speech in parliament is proof that the communist era is a closed bracket."   Continued...