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Oct 22, 2014 8:40 AM

Romanian ex-prison chief fails to show for trial

The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) A former Romanian prison commander charged with torturing and causing the deaths of 12 political prisoners in the 1950s and 1960s failed to show up for his trial Wednesday, saying he is sick.

It was the first time Romania had attempted to put a communist-era prison guard on trial.

The court said it did not believe the explanation of 89-year-old Alexandru Visinescu in failing to appear Wednesday. It ordered him to appear on Nov. 5 and said it was contemplating freezing his assets to pay damages to the alleged victims' families.

Visinescu ran the prison in Ramnicu Sarat, northeast of Bucharest, from 1956 to 1963. He insists he is not guilty because all he did was follow orders from his superiors, who are all dead now.

In a related development, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Wednesday asked his justice minister to look into the case of former dissident Gheorghe Ursu who was killed in prison on the orders of the former Securitate secret police in 1985 after repeated beatings from interrogators and inmates.

His son, Andrei Ursu, started a hunger strike Tuesday to call for the prosecution of a former Securitate colonel who he claims has evaded justice. Ursu says he will protest every day outside the ministry. Two police colonels were sentenced for being responsible for Ursu's death in 2003 but other people are believed to have been involved.

Ponta said he had asked the justice minister "to undertake all legal measures to find a solution." He said he was not aiming to influence the justice system "but I personally want light to be shed on this case."

About 500,000 Romanians were condemned as political prisoners in the 1950s as the nation's Communist government sought to crush all dissent.


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