Uprising in Moldova as communists win election

By Shaun Walker

Violence rocked the Moldovan capital of Chisinau yesterday as thousands of protesters stormed the presidential administration building and parliament in a second day of street protests.

Footage showed the protesters, mostly young men, hurling rocks at the windows of the presidential administration building and setting it on fire as large crowds looked on.

The riots came after parliamentary elections at the weekend gave President Vladimir Voronin's Communist Party around 50 per cent of the votes.

Protesters shouted "Freedom!" and "Down with the Communists!" and clashed with riot police.

They waved flags of neighbouring Romania, the EU member with which Moldova has cultural and linguistic links, as well as blue and yellow EU flags.

Government offices were ransacked, with papers and computers thrown from windows as protesters overran the buildings.

Moldovan state television reported that 34 protesters had been injured in the disturbances, two of them seriously.

Around 80 police officers also received treatment, and there were reports of a young woman dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in the parliament building.

Activists from the three leading opposition parties that contested the elections said that they did not believe that the published results of the voting were accurate.

The opposition parties want to see closer integration with the EU, and Romania in particular, as well as more transparent and democratic government in the country.

Mr Voronin said that protesting against the election result was a "pretext" for people trying to destabilise the country and called for an end to the "bacchanalia".

Late in the afternoon the President met opposition leaders for talks, and it was announced that there would be a full and thorough recount of the ballots, which could take up to 10 days.

The Moldovan President, who has been in power since 2001, is head of one of the last Communist governments in Europe, although analysts say that his government pays only lip service to Marxist ideals, using the label as a convenient way to gain affection among older segments of the population.

Most of those protesting were students, determined to see a more modernising and effective government.

The election results give the Communist Party control of the parliament, which will elect a new president.

Mr Voronin is unable to serve a third term as president, but he is expected to attempt to remain influential. One possibility is that he will follow Vladimir Putin in Russia by moving from the presidency to the prime ministership.

Although seen by Russia as within its sphere of interest, Moldova has also been keen to develop ties with the EU. It is the poorest country in Europe and was last month included in a list of six eastern European states to which the EU will offer financial aid.

"International election observers noted in their preliminary findings that the elections met many international standards and commitments, but that further improvements were required," said the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. He encouraged both the protesters and the authorities to show restraint.

Of particular concern to the EU will be the fate of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, where Moscow-backed separatists run a strip of land that is not internationally recognised as a country but has its own government and currency.

The situation is in some ways reminiscent of events in South Ossetia in the run-up to last summer's conflict between Russia and Georgia, although few observers expect a similar full-scale military conflict to erupt.

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