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Vegas woman bids to lead Romania

Lia Roberts
Lia Roberts heads Nevada's Republican women's association.

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Lia Roberts
Republican Party

BUCHAREST, Romania (Reuters) -- A U.S. Republican who left Romania more than 20 years ago burst onto the Balkan country's political scene Monday, declaring herself as a candidate for the presidency.

Lia Roberts, 54, who has dual Romanian and U.S. citizenship, launched her campaign ahead of November 28 elections by pledging to fight the scourge of corruption, attract foreign investment and raise living standards, now among the lowest in Europe.

"I am not a typical (Romanian) politician. I have acquired my training in the most democratic country in the world, the United States," said Roberts, who lives in U.S. gambling capital Las Vegas and is Romania's honorary consul to the city.

Roberts, who is financing her $15 million campaign herself, said she was confident that her strategy of bringing an American showbiz flavor to Romanian politics would win over the country's 22 million population.

"Nevada is as big as Romania and Bulgaria combined. If I made it among foreigners there, I will get elected among my own people here," the Nevada Republican Party chairwoman told a news conference.

"Some habits must stop. Corruption is the first," she said to about 300 supporters. "Investors will come to this country once its image is cleaned up."

Opinion polls commissioned by Roberts rank her fourth in the race with 10 percent of the vote. The ruling ex-communist party of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has yet to announce its candidate.

Roberts, who is running as an independent, has hired Dick Morris, former President Clinton's political adviser who resigned over a sex scandal, to run her campaign.

Analysts said it was unlikely that a candidate running without the support of a major party would make it to the presidential runoff.

"She is unlikely to get many votes," said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society think tank. "But she will be a colorful addition to the campaign."

Constitutional reforms last year made it possible for Romanians with dual citizenship to run for any public office and opened the way for Roberts to run for the five-year presidency.

She left Romania with her 10-year-old son in 1979, during communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's rule, and married an American. Now a widow, she returned to Romanian public life two months ago, appearing on TV shows and preparing her candidacy.

"I may have left Romania, but I have never been absent," she said.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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