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Bride, 12, Storms Out of Romania Wedding

Mon Sep 29, 2:58 PM ET

By ALISON MUTLER, Associated Press Writer

SIBIU, Romania - It was billed as the Gypsy wedding of the year. But the ceremony, launching a three-day party, got off to a bad start: The 12-year-old "princess bride" — daughter of a self-proclaimed king — stormed out of the church in protest in front of 400 guests.

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AP Photo

Slideshow: 12-Year-Old Marries in Romania

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"Leave me alone!" Ana Maria Cioaba screamed at reporters Saturday, swearing at them as she sought shelter in a nearby house. Her bridesmaids chanted slogans against the groom.

She returned to the church minutes later and — though she would hardly look at him — was duly married off to her 15-year-old groom, a sign of the persistence of the ancient practice of child weddings in the Gypsy, or Roma, culture.

Though the legal age for marriage in Romania is 18, the country generally tolerates the Gypsy tradition of arranged child weddings. Still, some young Roma women are starting to rebel against the custom, said Gabriela Mihai, 17, a cousin of Saturday's bride.

"I don't want to marry, I am choosy and I have refused several marriage partners my parents presented to me," she said.

Ana Maria's marriage was performed by her father, Florin, who claims the title of king of the Gypsies that his late father took and made an immense fortune trading in scrap metal and other items.

After the ceremony, the bride stalked out and refused to look at the groom, who walked uncomfortably two steps behind.

"What marriage?" Ana Maria said after the ceremony. Her 12 bridesmaids supported her rebellion, chanting, "Out with Birita!" — referring to groom Mihai Birita.

Even before the ceremony, it was clear the bride was reluctant.

"She has been crying all day, but the marriage will go ahead with or without her," Dana Cherendea, adviser to her father, said after the girl stormed out.

The adviser also said the bride would be punished — and suggested that meant a beating — for spoiling the lavish event.

The bride's family presented a dowry worth tens of thousands of dollars, the wedding feast included suckling pigs and thousands of bottles of wine, and the bride's Italian wedding gown cost $4,000.

Her father arranged for a horse-drawn carriage to carry the bridal couple through the city of Sibiu, 190 miles northwest of Bucharest.

"This is a happy day for the royal household," Florin Cioaba, 39, said before the ceremony. "My youngest daughter is getting married."

Official figures say more than 550,000 Roma live in Romania, but the real number is believed to be more than 1 million, out of the country's total population of 22 million.