Traian Basescu prepares to address the Romanian parliament prior to a vote to impeach him in Bucharest, July 6, 2012. — Photo by AP/File

BUCHAREST: Romanian President Traian Basescu handed over power Tuesday to his rival, parliament speaker Crin Antonescu, after the constitutional court approved his controversial suspension by lawmakers.

The move comes ahead of a referendum on July 29 on last week's parliamentary vote to impeach the centre-right Basescu in a political and constitutional crisis that has raised fears about the state of democracy in the EU state.

Antonescu, a member of the centre-left ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, is now interim head of state following the transfer which was held behind closed doors, the presidency said.

The constitutional court is due Tuesday to rule on amendments backed by Ponta's coalition on the conditions of the referendum, which analysts say are expected to make it easier to impeach Basescu.

“The court notes that the procedure for the suspension from his duties of Romanian President Traian Basescu has been respected ... and that the function of interim president will be assured by Crin Antonescu,” the court had ruled on Monday.

Ponta has been feuding with Basescu since his Liberal Social Union (USL) coalition took office in May after wresting power from centre-right Liberal Democratic Party-led government through a no-confidence motion.

He said Monday's ruling by the country's top court confirmed that “the government and the parliament respected the rules of democracy”.

The court, which has complained of “virulent attacks” against it by the government, ruled that a law passed by deputies limiting its power to intervene in parliamentary decisions was unconstitutional.

But it said objections by the PDL over the legality of last week's sacking of the speakers of both houses of parliament — posts both held by the opposition party — were not admissible.

The situation in Romania, which joined the EU five years ago, has provoked growing alarm from fellow EU members including Germany as well as the United States and rights groups.

Updated Jul 10, 2012 11:08am

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