BUCHAREST  - Romanian President Traian Basescu handed over power on Tuesday to a political rival in the latest twist in a crisis that has stoked fears about the state of democracy in one of the EU's poorest states.Senate speaker Crin Antonescu has taken over the reins as interim head of state after Romania's top court on Monday approved Basescu's controversial suspension by lawmakers. The move comes ahead of a July 29 referendum to validate last week's parliamentary vote to impeach the centre-right Basescu in a political and constitutional feud that has set off alarm bells among Romania's EU partners.Justice Minister Titus Corlatean on Tuesday rejected concerns in the West that Prime Minister Victor Ponta's centre-left coalition government had manipulated the judicial system in a bid to oust Basescu."The suspension of the president was validated by the constitutional court despite accusations by the opposition and the campaign international disinformation campaign," Corlatean told AFP."Judicial independence is guaranteed by the constitution. ... The judges cannot be influenced," he insisted. "The law has been applied despite all the media pressure surrounding the subject."Ponta's coalition, in office only since May, sparked widespread concern with a decree last week barring the Constitutional Court from ruling on parliamentary decisions.But Corlatean said the court had merely "returned to the situation prior to 2010 when (it) did not rule on parliamentary decisions."The court meanwhile appeared to prove its independence on Tuesday with a surprise ruling imposing a 50 percent voter turnout in order for the referendum to be valid."After deliberations, the constitutional court unanimously found that the law on the referendum is only constitutional if at least half of people registered to vote take part," the court said in a statement.New interim president Antonescu, a member of Ponta's coalition, was only last week appointed the senate speaker in controversial votes that ousted the speakers of both houses of parliament.The European Union again Tuesday voiced its concern about the situation in Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries which joined the bloc five years ago.European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said the EU executive's president Jose Manuel Barroso would meet Ponta on Thursday in Brussels."We remain concerned about the speed and the consequences of decisions taken in recent weeks, and we have many questions regarding the respect for the independence of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary," she said.She noted however that the court had confirmed that the parliament had used the correct procedures in suspending Basescu, a former sea captain who had been president since 2004.Seeking to reassure the EU over the state of Romania's democracy, Corlatean said he welcomed the bloc's ongoing monitoring of judicial reforms in the country."The mechanism has been useful in the past for the progress of Romanian justice, and I believe that it will retain some usefulness for a certain period," he said.On Friday, 256 out of 432 deputies voted to impeach Basescu over claims he improperly assumed the powers of the prime minister when he announced drastic austerity cuts in 2010.Ponta has been feuding with Basescu since his Liberal Social Union coalition took office in May after wresting power from a government led by the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party following a no-confidence motion.