Jackson stirs Romanian controversy

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The Independent Online
BUCHAREST (Reuter) - A concert in Bucharest by the pop superstar Michael Jackson has ignited a controversy over whether President Ion Iliescu, a veteran Communist, staged the event at a financial loss to help him get re-elected.

Mr Iliescu's press office and his Foreign Minister, Adrian Nastase, issued statements on Saturday denying the allegations made in the opposition newspaper, Romania Libera.

Jackson performed in Bucharest's biggest pop concert on 1 October, a few days after parliamentary and first-round presidential elections in which Mr Iliescu and his neo-Communist party came out on top. Romanians were voting in the presidential run-off yesterday, choosing between Mr Iliescu and the centrist opposition's Emil Constantinescu. Mr Iliescu, who took 47 per cent in the first ballot two weeks ago, is tipped to win with a simple majority.

Mr Iliescu took the opportunity to appear on television with Jackson at an orphanage and staged an award ceremony to honour the singer's charitable activities for Romanian orphans. 'The presidential institution was neither financially nor organisationally involved in the show Michael Jackson gave in Bucharest,' a presidential press office statement said.

Polling got off to a slow start before dawn in blustery and wet autumn weather, and only 14 per cent of the 16.4 million registered voters had cast ballots after four hours of polling. More than 8,000 Romanian observers and almost 600 foreign monitors were on hand at the 14,611 polling stations.

The opposition has alleged that the first round, on 27 September, was seriously at fault because more than 10 per cent of the ballots were cast by voters away from home and a further 12 per cent were spoiled.