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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Hundreds of Romanians feted former King Michael's 92nd birthday on Friday and streamed into his palace in the capital Bucharest to pay respects to the monarch who was forced to abdicate by Soviet-backed communists more than six decades ago.
Some 1,500 people chanted his name as Michael waved from a balcony of the white Elisabeta Palace - built at the end of a leafy avenue in the 1930s, blending Moorish and other styles.
The former monarch, who was accompanied by his daughter, Princess Margareta, and his nephew, Prince Nicolae, opened the palace to the public to celebrate the occasion.
Restoration of the monarchy is not an issue in the European Union's second-poorest state, but Romanians respect Michael as they grow increasingly disillusioned with the country's political class which they link with poverty and corruption.
"Our political leaders are not role models, but the royal family is," said 29-year-old marketing specialist Ioana Patrascoiu, who took a day off from work to see the former king.
"King Michael worked hard to support his family after he was exiled and people look up to him because he deserves their respect, not just because of his royal blood."
Born in 1921 in the Peles castle in the Carpathian Mountains, the former king is a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty and a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
Michael played a major part in changing Romania's fate in World War Two, participating in a 1944 coup against fascist wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, after which Romania broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.
After communism fell in 1989, politicians fearing Michael's influence blocked his first few attempted visits after decades of exile in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
He finally returned to Romania in 1992 and regained citizenship in 1997. He made various appeals for monarchy restoration in the early 1990s, but then-President Ion Iliescu, a former communist, responded by deporting him on several occasions.
Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Luiza Ilie, Michael Roddy and Pravin Char