The president of Romania, locked in a dead heat with his rival in a run-off election, is facing questions from opponents after video surfaced of him hitting a 10-year-old boy in the face during a campaign rally in 2004.


Traian Basescu, the center-right president of the eastern European country, was confronted by footage of the incident during a TV interview Thursday night. At first Basescu didn't deny that the incident happened, and argued there must have been a reason for his violent outburst.

"I can assure you that I will look at it and give you an explanation," Romanian news site Nine O'Clock quoted Basescu as saying. "But does the child say anything in the film? Did he say something nasty? ... Perhaps he swore at me."

But later Basescu denied that the incident ever took place, and now political allies are rallying to his side, claiming that the video was manipulated. On Saturday Basescu said he would sue Gardianul, the newspaper that uncovered the video, for "lying and for forging video materials," Nine O'Clock reported.

The boy in question, Bogdan Istrotaiu, now 15, initially backed up the claim that Basescu hit him in 2004, when Basescu was mayor of Bucharest and running for the presidency for the first time. The Associated Press reports Istrotaiu first told a Romanian newspaper that Basescu had hit him, but a day later he retracted his claim, saying he didn't want to be part of the growing controversy.

Romania's government collapsed last month under the weight of a deep recession. In the first round of elections, Basescu led his center-left rival, Mircea Geoana, by two percentage points. The controversy over the video could easily spell defeat for the incumbent Basescu in the run-off election scheduled for December 6.

-- With Agence France-Presse

The following video was posted to YouTube, November 27, 2009.