BUCHAREST  - Romanian senators on Tuesday sacked the opposition speaker, a move denounced as a “coup” in an escalating political and constitutional row that has raised concerns about democracy in the country. Senators from the centre-left Social Liberal Union (USL) governing coalition voted to oust speaker Vasile Blaga of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (PDL) in an extraordinary session. The move, whose legality has been called into question, was the latest development in a feud which has seen Prime Minister Victor Ponta increasingly at odds with the country’s judges and the president.

Blaga said the USL move amounted to “a coup” and a “suspension of democracy in Romania”, saying only he as speaker had the power to call such a vote.

A total of 70 of the 137 senators voted to sack Blaga at the extraordinary session called by Ponta’s USL.

Crin Atonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL), a member of the coalition, was later elected speaker to replace Blaga.

Earlier Tuesday, Romania’s top court issued a rare statement lambasting “virulent attacks” against it by Ponta’s government.

“Constitutional Court judges have noted the virulent attacks the court was subjected to by the government and other public institutions as well as propositions made to dismantle the court,” the court said.

It said that “given the gravity of the situation and the unprecedented attacks against the court and its judges,” the court has decided to appeal to a Council of Europe advisory body on constitutional matters.

Parliamentary sources quoted by Romanian news agencies also said the USL wanted to also dismiss some Constitutional Court judges to pave the way for the dismissal of Ponta’s rival, the centre-right President Traian Basescu.

Some judges came under fire from Justice Minister Titus Corlatean after the the court ruled that the president rather than the prime minister should represent the country at European summits.

The two men have been at odds since Ponta’s coalition took office in May after the former centre-right government fell following a no-confidence vote.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled in the autumn.

The Soros Foundation in Romania accused the government of “politicising the administration” and “applying pressure on independent voices”.

“Pressures applied on the judiciary are worrying,” president Mircea Vasilescu wrote in a letter to Ponta published on Monday.