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Opposition says election officials rejected recount request

Video by Sophie DAVIDSON

Latest update : 2009-04-08

Hours after Moldovan riot police cleared the country's parliament building that was taken over by demonstrators Tuesday, the opposition denounced what it said was election officials' rejection of ballot recount requests.

REUTERS - Reuters - Moldova’s Communist rulers arrested 193 opposition protesters early on Wednesday and riot police regained control of the presidential offices and parliament, ransacked in anti-government riots.

President Vladimir Voronin accused the opposition—which favours closer ties with the West—of attempting a coup, after violent protests swept the capital of Europe’s poorest country.

Interfax news agency later said Voronin had accused neighbouring Romania, with which Moldova has ethnic and linguistic links, of involvement in the protests. RIA news agency said he had declared Romania’s ambassador persona non grata.

One woman died and about 100 people were hurt after protesters, who say Sunday’s parliamentary election was rigged, ransacked Voronin’s offices and looted parliament, where fires raged into the night.

Many waved European Union and Romanian flags.

About 300 anti-Communist demonstrators gathered outside government headquarters in Chisinau on Wednesday and blocked the main boulevard in the city, Reuters witnesses said.

They jeered at the arrival of riot police but there was no sign of the kind of violence that engulfed the city centre on Tuesday.

Opposition leaders had predicted demonstrations would spread across this mainly rural nation of four million people wedged between EU member Romania and former Soviet Ukraine.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said police would use firearms to restore order if necessary.

Mass street protests against disputed election results in other ex-Soviet states led to power changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, though it was not clear in Moldova’s case what grassroots support the protesters had.

Most of Moldova was formerly part of Romania and the country is divided between those who want to continue as an independent state in a region which Russia regards as part of its sphere of influence, and those who want to reunite with Romania.

Russia’s foreign ministry, in a statement on Wednesday, said the riots were a plot aimed at undermining Moldova’s sovereignty and it pointed a finger at forces which favour a reunion with Romania.

“The Russian foreign ministry hopes that common sense will prevail, public and constitutional order will be restored in the next few days and the choice of the Moldovan citizens will be confirmed by all politically responsible forces,” it said.

The United States and the EU urged an end to violence.

“We want calmer heads to prevail,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.

“What’s important here is that ... people desist from any type of violent activity. That doesn’t help anything. It only adds more tension to a region that doesn’t need any further tension,” the spokesman added.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who had congratulated Voronin on his party’s election win, called for a speedy and calm resolution of the crisis.

Vlad Filat, leader of Moldova’s Liberal Democrats, accused the government of going back on an earlier agreement to recount Sunday’s election and predicted “some very serious repression”.

“I am not ruling out arrests both of political leaders and participants,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Ala Meleca said 193 people, including eight minors, had been detained overnight on charges of looting, robbery, hooliganism and affray.

Some 96 police and 79 demonstrators were injured in the riots, and 57 people remain in hospital because of their wounds, she added.

“The police intend to uphold public order,” Meleca said by telephone. “If necessary, they will use special means, including firearms.”

Reuters reporters at the scene said dozens of riot police had regained control of key buildings in central Chisinau during the early hours and were standing outside both.

In Tuesday’s riots, protesters smashed the large plate glass windows of the presidential offices and forced their way into the parliament building, setting it ablaze and hurling computers and other equipment out of windows into the streets.

Separatist rebellion

Large crowds of demonstrators were no longer outside the buildings. A Reuters reporter also saw some groups of armed special forces troops in the centre of the capital.

Some difficulties were reported by travellers at border crossings into Moldova from Romania and Ukraine after the government put border guards on alert but the country’s frontiers remained open on Wednesday.

Opposition leaders condemned Tuesday’s violence but demanded new elections. Some protesters demanded the resignation of Voronin, who is due to step down because of constitutional term limits but wants to retain power from behind the scenes.

Official election results from Sunday’s vote put the Communists in front with close to 50 percent. The vote is important because Moldova has a single-chamber parliament which is responsible for choosing the country’s president.

The worst violence to hit Moldova’s capital in decades could also complicate efforts to resolve an 18-year-old separatist rebellion in the Russian-speaking region of Transdniestria, where Russia has had troops since Soviet times.

Most of the protesters on the streets of Chisinau were students who say they see no future if Communists keep their hold on the ex-Soviet state of four million people.

A former interior minister, Voronin has run Moldova since 2001, but many of his people live in poverty and thousands of skilled workers have left to seek a better life abroad.



Date created : 2009-04-08