Romania's government has collapsed and its economy is in shambles but its presidential campaign has been dominated in recent days by a video that appears to show the president striking a 10-year-old boy in the face.
The 18-second film shot in 2004 shows Traian Basescu, then Bucharest mayor, crouching at the edge of a stage at a campaign rally and talking to a visibly upset woman in the crowd. He reaches for her hand while looking away. Ten-year-old Bogdan Istratoiu reaches up and puts his hand in the president's.
Basescu then appears to strike quickly at Istratoiu with his right hand and connect with the child's face. (See video below.)
The footage appeared just over a week ahead of a Dec. 6 runoff vote and has been top news ever since. It's been shown dozens of times on television news channels, seen thousands of times online, debated incessantly, and become a major topic of everyday conversation.
"Someone who does this is capable of anything," said Andras Szoeke, 50, a goods transporter from the city of Cluj. "I will go and vote against him to get rid of him."
Basescu's campaign says the film is a dirty trick and the footage was "seriously altered." Spokesman Sever Voinescu introduced reporters to a film specialist, Lucian Blaga, who said the film contained "fake elements" including gaps in the sequences where Basescu's hand moves towards the boy before what appears to be the blow to the chin.