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Moldova: Thousands Rally Against 'Russification'

Chisinau, 13 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Police say about 15,000 Moldovans demonstrated in the capital today, protesting against government plans to improve the status of the Russian language. The protestors also demanded the resignation of the Communist government, and nationalist leaders exorted people to go on a nationwide strike.

Protesters carried banners saying "Better Dead Than Red" and "Don't Falsify History." They object to the new government's plans to make Russian an official second language.

Shouting, whistling and cheering, teenagers and nationalists blocked traffic in the city center and waved blue, yellow, and red Romanian and Moldovan flags. "Don't thrust the Russian language on us. We want to study the history of our people," one youthful demonstrator shouted to applause and cheers from the crowd.

The government today announced a mandatory new history course that the opposition fears will paint the wrong picture of the country's Soviet past and play down its Romanian roots.

Nationalist leaders urged people to go on strike in protest at the decision and force the Communist government to resign. "Today we are calling for a nationwide strike.... A struggle against the communist hydra will be a long one and it is starting now," Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca told the crowd.

The demonstrators dispersed peacefully in the afternoon, but pledged to organize further protest actions.

Most of Moldova's 4 million inhabitants speak a language almost identical to Romanian, but the country also has a large Russian-speaking minority. Moldova was part of Romania until 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union.