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Former Romanian president prosecuted for crimes against humanity

Ion Iliescu is facing charges linked to protester deaths in a 1990 anti-government demonstration

Former President Ion Iliescu appeared on Wednesday before Romania's top court, which is prosecuting him for crimes against humanity during a bloody anti-government protest 25 years ago in which six people died and hundreds of others were injured.

Iliescu, 85, went to the High Court of Cassation and Justice on Wednesday to hear charges connected to the violent repression of the protest. He denies wrongdoing but made no statements during the session.

A court statement said he is being prosecuted for the deaths of four people, the shooting of three others and depriving 1,000 people of their freedom. Prosecutors haven't explained why he is being charged with four deaths rather than the six that have been consistently reported.

The head of the Romanian Intelligence Service at the time, Virgil Magureanu, a close ally of Iliescu, also appeared before the court. Asked whether he was guilty of crimes against humanity, he said, "That's a stupid question."

Later Wednesday, the defense minister at the time, Victor Stanculescu, also appeared before the court. He told reporters prosecutors cited him as a suspect in the case.

In June 1990, club-wielding coal miners and police broke up a weeks-long pro-democracy demonstration in Bucharest, arresting and beating thousands of people.

Afterward, Iliescu thanked the miners, drawing criticism at home and abroad. Romanian television stations on Wednesday replayed footage of him thanking the miners.

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Romania to pay compensation to victims.

The case was never properly investigated because of the continued presence of former communists in the government. But in March, military prosecutors announced they reopened the case.

Thousands of Romanians emigrated after the riots amid doubts about Romania's commitment to democracy, six months after the ouster and execution of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

Iliescu was elected president three times, serving from 1990 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004.

Wire services

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