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Moldovan President Accuses Romania As Protests Continue

Video: Protesters in the streets of Chisinau (without translation)

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has expanded his accusation of an attempted "coup d'etat" by opposition forces to charge that "certain forces" in neighboring Romania had masterminded the violence that has hit the country in recent days.

Several thousand protesters returned to the streets of the Moldovan capital on April 8 less than 24 hours after demonstrations gave way to bloody clashes and the ransacking of government offices.

But there were no reports of violence as police and security forces guarded key government buildings to avoid a repeat of the chaos of a day earlier. President Voronin told a meeting of regional government officials that 118 people were arrested after the April 7 riots.

The street protests followed the announcement that Voronin's ruling Communist Party had won more than half the votes in weekend parliamentary elections, a result that would allow it unilaterally to pick a president to succeed Voronin as well as a prime minister.

Authorities regained control of the parliament and presidential offices overnight after mobs overran those buildings, which lie next to a main Chisinau square.

Hundreds of young people who were gathered near the steps of the presidential building around midday were subdued, with no signs of violence.

There were no police visible at the entrance to the parliament building across the road.

Accusations Of Romanian Interference

Voronin announced that Romania's ambassador to Chisinau had been declared persona non grata and that Moldova would institute a summary visa regime with Romania, which is an EU member state. The Moldovan ambassador to Romania was summoned to Chisinau for consultations.

EU and other European representatives have urged protesters to refrain from violence but also called on the government to allow peaceful protests.

Riot police guard the parliament building on April 8.
Romanian media reported that Moldovan authorities have closed several border crossings between the two countries in an apparent attempt to prevent hundreds of young Moldovans studying in Romania from returning home and possibly joining the protests. At least 20 journalists were also reportedly prevented from crossing from Romania into Moldova.

Some reports say noncitizens are being denied entry to the country.

Voronin, speaking to regional government officials, said 118 people were arrested after the April 7 riots. He accused the leaders of the protest movement of fleeing abroad.

Voronin's accusations of Romanian involvement underscore the close cultural and language links the two countries share. Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and two-thirds of the country's 4.5 million people are ethnic Romanians.

The televised mayhem on April 7 included scenes of Romanian flags, nearly identical to the Moldovan national flag, being waved from the rooftop of the besieged presidential building.

The opposition has not commented on Voronin's claims about Romanian involvement.

But opposition leaders deny being behind the violence and have accused the government of sending its own provocateurs into the crowds of demonstrators to steer what began as peaceful protests in a more destructive direction.

Vlad Filat, a leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, told Reuters that the authorities had "broken off the agreement we reached with Voronin," reportedly over allowing opposition access to voter lists.

Filat said he would not rule out "arrests, both of political leaders and participants, to maintain the pressure, to give an example of how they can treat those who decide to protest."

View From The Street

Protesters' numbers were dwindling on April 8, with crowds in the late afternoon estimated at 3,000. The violent April 7 confrontations gave way to a more relaxed mood.

Some banners indicated a sense of anger in the crowd, with messages like "Voronin, leader of the dead." Still, some of the mainly young demonstrators told RFE/RL they disapproved of the destruction caused by violent protesters.

A young man expressed suspicion that the attacks had been stage,saying that it was "the provocateurs who were calling on people to crush and destroy things, to set things on fire. I believe it was some Communist idea. We'll find out in the following days," he said.

Another participant, a young girl, told RFE/RL she strongly rejected the violence and the destruction: "I was there for a while. We stood there quietly with my colleagues. I clearly disagree with what they did, the damage they caused to the presidency and parliament buildings. No one expected the Communists to win again."

Call For 'Deescalation'

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- whose election monitors offered lukewarm praise for the voting that sparked the protests -- has reiterated its condemnation of the violent incidents and called for restraint.

The OSCE on April 6 expressed concerns about "undue administrative interference" in the vote, but said the election overall met many international standards and commitments.

"We condemn, of course, any violence, any outbreak of violence that took place in the Moldovan capital following [the April 5] parliamentary elections," the OSCE spokesman in Chisinau, Matti Sidoroff, told RFE/RL. "We urge every political side to do their utmost to deescalate the situation."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said on April 8 that the United States agreed with the OSCE's assessment, and called for calm.

"We're calling on the parties to refrain from further violence, to resolve their differences peacefully and through peaceful means," he said. "We're encouraged, frankly, that calm has returned to Chisinau, and we’re also happy to report that there were no reported injuries to American citizens."

The street protests began after the three main opposition parties -- which together garnered 30 percent of the vote, according to preliminary figures -- called for a recount. They complained that Communist authorities had manipulated the vote, in some cases casting false ballots with the names of Moldovans living abroad.

People gathered on a square near the government building on April 8.
Independent observers also spoke of widespread intimidation of voters, especially outside the capital.

Asked if the OSCE would review its findings, Sidoroff declined to comment. But he said the opposition's complaints must be analyzed without delay.

"Indeed, we know that many opposition parties have filed complaints and say also that they have proof that they have presented which has to be studied in due time by the Central Election Commission, and this process is going on," Sidoroff said.

Deadlines Passed

Opposition leaders met late on April 7 with Voronin and government representatives to call for a recount.

But election commission head Iurie Ciocan has rejected that demand, arguing that the law only provides for individual complaints filed with local courts where the alleged fraud was noted.

The commission was due to announce the official results of the vote on April 8, but that deadline has passed with no formal announcement.

Serafim Urechean, the leader of the Our Moldova Alliance, one of the three pro-Western liberal opposition parties which managed to get into parliament, told RFE/RL that they all insist on being allowed to check the voters' lists against the actual number of votes to establish whether identities of people who have been abroad and couldn't vote had been stolen.

"We want to have the voters' lists put at our disposal. [When we get the lists] we, [the Our Moldova Aliiance] together with the other two [opposition] parties [the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democratic Party] will initiate through investigations and afterthat we can talk," Urechean said.

Voronin, whose second and final presidential term formally ends on April 8, remains in the role of caretaker president until a new parliament elects a new head of state. There is speculation that Voronin might seek the post of parliamentary speaker or head the Communists' parliamentary faction.

The events in Moldova have been watched carefully by Moscow, which has some 1,000 troops stationed in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniester, and has sought to boost its influence in the former Soviet republic.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moldova opposition calls for a recount or repeat of the parliamentary vote are "absolutely groundless," while the State Duma passed a statement backing the Moldovan authorities and urging the European Union and Romania to clearly condemn the protesters' actions.

reporting from Chisinau by RFE/RL Moldovan Service correspondent Valeria Vitu and from Prague by RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc; with additional wire reports

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