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On trial for corruption, Romanian PM survives no-confidence motion

romaniaBUCHAREST--Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta comfortably survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, his first major test since becoming the country's only sitting premier to stand trial for corruption.
  All three parties in Ponta's coalition abstained, leaving the main opposition Liberals, who had hoped to lure defectors from the ruling camp, well short of the 275 seats needed to topple the prime minister. Two hundred and seven parliamentarians voted for the motion, with eight opposing it.
  Ponta has repeatedly defied calls to resign and vowed to serve out his term, which expires at the end of 2016. The failure of Tuesday's motion means Ponta is now free to push his programme of tax cuts and public sector wage increases.
  His left-leaning government will also ask for a new precautionary financial aid deal - which had reassured investors ever since Romania was rescued from a crisis in 2009 - from the International Monetary Fund.
  The no-confidence vote took place just days after the most recent aid deal expired last weekend and it is unclear whether the lenders will grant Romania a new credit line. Ponta has denied charges of money-laundering, forgery and aiding tax evasion in a case that mainly relates to his time as a lawyer, and has accused prosecutors of fabricating the case. Thousands of opposition-led protesters gathered outside the Communist-era Palace of the Parliament in central Bucharest, calling on Ponta to step down as the debate got under way.
  "Today's vote represents a failure on all fronts by the Liberals and proof they don't have a number of votes for a government," Ponta told reporters after the vote. "I will extract myself from all these political battles and I will be ready to use all my energy as prime minister together with the coalition partners."
  Romania is seen as one of Europe's most corrupt countries, where tax evasion is common and bribes are asked for in exchange for everything from business contracts to state hospital care. But a crackdown on graft by prosecutors has resulted in some of the most senior politicians, officials and businessmen in the eastern European country investigated and jailed. Ponta's former finance minister was arrested earlier this year, as was the head of a mid-sized political party, among many others.

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