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Moldova: President Sacks Minister At Center Of Language Row

Chisinau, 26 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin today sacked the country's education minister, whose move to reintroduce compulsory Russian lessons sparked a wave of protests. Voronin appointed pro-Communist parliament deputy Gheorghe Sima to succeed Ilie Vancea, who had already acknowledged that the language ruling, overturned last week, had been a mistake.

Moldovans speak a language nearly identical to Romanian, but a large Russian-speaking minority and pro-Moscow officials had promoted Vancea's language laws.

Moldovans staged demonstrations from the beginning of this year calling for the removal of the Communist government in the wake of the language row.

Compulsory Russian-language classes were ended in 1991 when Moldova became independent. However, some 36 percent of the population in Moldova are Russian-speakers.

Much of Moldova formed part of Romania before its annexation by the Soviet Union under the terms of a 1939 secret pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.