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Restive Diplomatic, Security Situation Belie Moldovan Calm


Protesters gesture during a rally near the government building in Chisinau on April 8.
CHISINAU/PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- The street protests in the Moldovan capital that briefly gave way to vandalism and dramatic violence have subsided as signs emerged that authorities and the opposition are taking steps to reduce the political tensions behind the confrontation.

Opposition parties disputing the ruling Communists' election victory began checking voter lists after Moldova's Central Electoral Commission agreed to allow them to do so after days of mass protests.

The election officials' pledge represents a concession to Moldova's three main opposition parties, who had made checking voter lists one of their central demands.

Meanwhile, the street protests that spun violently out of control on their second day, April 7, have trailed off since Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's accusation that neighboring Romania was trying to effect a "coup d'etat" to unseat his government.

Preliminary results suggesting a majority win for Voronin's ruling Communists had triggered opposition complaints of irregularities in the April 5 voting for a new parliament and sparked the subsequent demonstrations.

The Central Electoral Commission made its decision to share the voter lists shortly after it announced the final vote.

The official results give the three main pro-Western opposition parties -- the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Our Moldova Alliance -- some 30 percent of the vote. Those parties accuse the Communists of manipulating the poll, including casting false ballots in the name of the hundred of thousands of Moldovans living abroad.

The opposition leaders demanded a recount, or at least permission to check the voter lists against the number of actual votes.

The latter demand has been fulfilled, with election officials saying the opposition has four days to perform the checks. But the opposition said the four days given by the Commission to perform the check through a complicated, time-consuming procedure amounts to procrastination.

Fears Of Retaliation

The capital’s streets were eerily quiet, with virtually no sign of protests following three days of demonstrations.

However, if there is a calm, it is an uneasy one. Reports and video footage emerged of plainclothes police beating and rounding up people in broad daylight. Thugs in unmarked cars were reportedly grabbing individuals from the streets, and even from school classrooms and university campuses, dragging them away.

Desperate parents were reportedly trying to obtain information about their children at police stations, after they failed to return home after taking part in the protests which turned violent on April 7.

A protester burns a picture of President Voronin near the presidential building.
There were no indication that government detractors had planned any demonstrations, and no such announcement was made when a group of chanting protesters called it quits on the evening of April 8.

President Voronin raised the stakes with his charge that opposition leaders were plotting to depose the government, possibly keeping some demonstrators away.

Unconfirmed reports were circulating that suggested security forces had arrested and dealt harshly with suspected protesters or rally organizers.

The final election results gave the ruling Communists just under 50 percent of the vote, or 60 mandates in the 101-seat parliament. That is one seat less than preliminary results indicated and leaves the Communists one short of the 61 votes needed to elect a new president after Voronin's term, which technically expired on April 7.

Voronin, who is serving his second term, is not allowed to run again under Moldova's constitution.

Ruffling Feathers

Romanian officials have vehemently dismissed Voronin's allegation that Bucharest was involved in masterminding the violence, which caught officials and the international community off-guard.

Meanwhile, Voronin's accusations have sparked a major diplomatic confrontation with Bucharest. Moldova shares deep linguistic and cultural ties and was part of Romania until World War II.

Voronin and his government declared Romanian Ambassador Filip Teodorescu persona non grata, expelled him, and instituted a unilateral visa regime against EU member Romania. Borders between the two countries have been selectively closed, with Moldova refusing access to Romanian journalists and to hundreds of its own citizens who have been studying across the border.

Three Romanian journalists were about to be reportedly expelled from Moldova for "activities incompatible" with national law.

News reports say that Ukrainian authorities have arrested wealthy Moldovan businessman Gabriel Stati after a request from Chisinau on suspicion that he helped finance the street protests.

Voronin has directly accused the three opposition parties of being on the payroll of Romania and plotting with Bucharest against what he called Moldova's "statehood," after some of the protesters displayed the Romanian flag on the presidency building.

Both Romania and the Moldovan opposition have dismissed the accusations as "aberrations."

Vlad Filat, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party, has claimed that government provocateurs started the violence in order to be able to pin blame for the unrest on Romania.

"This was an irresponsible statement, which had been prepared well in advance," Filat said. "After all the insults that [Moldova's] Communists hurled at Romanians, I don't think they can [go] any further. They are ignoring the fact that Romania is a European Union and NATO member. It was clear that some of the actions were thought up and implemented by provocateurs."

The European Union, the United States, and the OSCE have called for restraint on both sides.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov said the European Union and Romania must act to ensure that "Romanian slogans and flags" do not undermine the sovereignty of Moldova.

Russia has some 1,000 troops in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region and has sought in recent months to step up its already considerable influence over the Communist government in Chisinau.

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