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Moldovan President Vows To Repel 'Coup' After Protests Turn Violent

CHISINAU (RFE/RL) -- A political standoff continues between disgruntled opposition leaders and the Moldovan government following multiparty talks convened when antigovernment street protests turned violent in the capital.

But police appeared to have regained control overnight of the presidential and parliamentary offices adjacent to a major square in downtown Chisinau where much of the unrest was centered. Security forces in riot gear were standing guard outside both buildings at daybreak.

Russia's RIA news agency quotes the Interior Ministry as saying police have detained 193 protesters in Chisinau, including eight underaged people, and charged them with looting, hooliganism, robbery, and criminal attacks.

Demonstrators say they plan to continue the protests for a third day despite tough language from President Vladimir Voronin, whose Communist Party's apparent election victory over the weekend set off demonstrations by critics who claimed the vote was tainted.

Voronin said in a televised address late on April 7 that the events "cannot be described as anything other than a coup d'etat." He accused opposition leaders of having "embarked on the path of violent seizure of power" and vowed to "resolutely defend the state against the leaders of the pogrom."

Voronin's harsh characterization of the day's events followed statements from opposition sources and the country's election supervisor rejecting rumors that a possible deal was struck clearing the way for a recount of ballots from the April 5 elections.

Ransacking of the presidential offices in central Chisinau on April 7.
Reuters had reported that three main opposition leaders met with Voronin and Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii in response to the violence. Several agencies then suggested both sides agreed that the ballots would be counted again.

But the chairman of the country's national election commission, Iurie Ciocan, told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service that reports that attributed to him the news of a breakthrough and a recount were incorrect.

Indeed, Vlad Filat, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, told Reuters on April 8 that election officials have refused the recount request, saying "they have broken off the agreement we reached with Voronin."

Filat said he expects "some very serious repression" by the authorities now. "I am not ruling out arrests both of political leaders and participants," he said.

Violent Turn Of Events

Clashes between police and some of the more than 10,000 protesters who came out for the second day of antigovernment demonstrations on April 7 included the storming and ransacking of the offices of the president and of the parliamentary building across the street.

At a cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Voronin reportedly warned organizers of antigovernment protests in the capital that turned violent and accompanied the storming of government buildings to end the "bacchanalia," and he said "challenging the election is no more than a pretext," according to Interfax The president went on to say that "this operation has been well-prepared, well-thought-out, and it looks like it's also been well-financed.

A fire burns outside parliament after individuals forced their way into the building on April 7.
One day after an estimated 8,000 people turned out on April 6 for protests against preliminary results from the weekend elections, upwards of 10,000 people hit the streets of Chisinau to protest the ruling Communist Party's apparent election victory.

Demonstrators attacked riot police with cobblestones and bricks, prompting security forces to use batons and water cannon to stem their advance. A fire engine was turned upside down and destroyed by demonstrators.

Crowds eventually forced their way into the presidential and parliamentary buildings, inflicting considerable damage as they carried furniture and office equipment outside.

Reports suggest that dozens of police and civilians have been treated for injuries. One woman is reported to have died in the violence.

Some members of the opposition have called for scrapping the April 5 legislative elections, in which the ruling Communists' declared victory with more than half the vote, and are demanding that a fresh poll be held.

If preliminary vote tallies held, Voronin's Communists would hold 61 seats in the 101-seat parliament, exactly the number needed to elect a new president to replace him. Voronin, who is serving his second term, is not allowed to run again under Moldova's constitution.

Motives Unclear

Demonstrators initially poured into the building that houses the president's offices, and later broke into the parliament building across the street through broken windows and proceeded to heap furniture and office equipment on a bonfire outside.

Street fighting in downtown Chisinau on April 7
Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca told reporters soon after the mayhem broke out that violence was provoked by provocateurs infiltrated among the largely peaceful protesters.

"Thousands of young people have broken the ground floor windows and those on the first and second floor, and entered the auxiliary rooms," RFE/RL correspondent Iulian Ciocan said to describe the scene shortly after midday. "They set something on fire, and there is thick smoke coming out of some windows. Police tried to stop them on the presidency's steps but were pushed back inside where they started using water cannon against the protesters."

Ciocan described the situation as "rather uncertain," with no clear organizers behind the protests that turned violent and even less idea of "exactly what they want."

Gheorghe Ciobanu, the director of a Chisinau emergency hospital, was shown on Romanian television saying that his facility had treated 40 people, including three who appeared to have been injured by some sort of explosion.

International Concern

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged protesters to avoid violence, but called on authorities to let peaceful demonstrations go ahead.

Moldova is among six invitees of a new EU outreach program for ex-Soviet neighbors, called the Eastern Partnership. The European Union is expected to formally invite Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to join the initiative at a Prague summit on May 7.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin was quoted as saying Moscow was following the situation "with concern."

President Voronin waves to supporters during voting on April 5.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry has also said it is worried by the events next door in Moldova.

Monitors from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a preliminary report on April 6 that the elections took place in an "overall pluralistic environment." But the ODIHR noted that "further improvements are required to ensure an electoral process free from undue administrative interference and to increase public confidence."

Among the shortcomings, the ODIHR cited alleged intimidation of voters and candidates, bias in the state-dominated media, and hurdles that included an electoral threshold and a ban on preelection alliances.

with reporting by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service in Chisinau, RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc in Prague, and additional Reuters and other wire reports. Video of April 7 protests by Chisinau bureau chief Vasile Botnaru

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