Former Romanian President denies any knowledge of CIA flights

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu denied any knowledge of the U.S. detaining 23 terror suspects in an airport near the Black Sea, calling Swiss newspaper reports containing the allegations "inventions". "I don't know about such a thing, about detention sites. The place has been checked," Iliescu said at a meeting of the opposition Social Democracy Party late Monday. Iliescu, who left office in 2004, dismissed the allegations in the Zurich-based Sonntagsblick as "inventions."

At the same meeting, former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase called the report "speculation," adding that journalists had visited the Mihail Kogalniceanu airport near the Black Sea port of Constanta where the paper alleged that 23 Iraqi and Afghan suspects had been held. The government has not responded to the latest allegations published Monday, but President Traian Basescu and Romania's Defense Ministry have firmly denied previous reports that Romania hosted such sites. However, Ioan Mircea Pascu, Romania's defense minister in 2001-2004, told the AP that parts of Mihail Kogalniceanu were off-limits to Romanian authorities.

Pascu said he could not determine whether prisoners were ever held at the installation, but he conceded that planes flying captives to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have made stopovers in Romania.

Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated key al-Qaida suspects at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe were first reported Nov. 2 in The Washington Post. After the report appeared, Human Rights Watch said it had circumstantial evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania. Poland said last week it had closed its investigation into allegations that the country may have hosted secret CIA prisons, but did not release any findings.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to address questions about clandestine CIA detention centers, but says the United States acts within the law, reports the AP. I.L.

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