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In Bid To End Protests, Moldova's Parliament Speaker Offers Referendum On Presidency

Moldovan Parliament speaker Andrian Candu speaks during his briefing in Parliament in Chisinau on January 29.
Moldovan Parliament speaker Andrian Candu speaks during his briefing in Parliament in Chisinau on January 29.

Moldova's embattled ruling coalition says it will soon call for a referendum on direct presidential elections, a moderate concession to demonstrators who have held several large antigovernment protests over the past week.

But the coalition rejected a more central demand for early parliamentary elections, and a key protest leader immediately dismissed the referendum proposal as "way too little."

The informal compromise offer appeared aimed at relieving pressure from a loose alliance of pro-Russian and pro-European parties that are calling for the brand-new government's resignation and new parliamentary polls in the small, poor former Soviet republic.

Parliament speaker Andrian Candu told a news conference on January 29 in Chisinau that lawmakers will discuss calling the referendum as soon as the legislature reconvenes on February 1.

"We will propose organizing such a referendum during our first session," Candu said.

Moldova's president has been elected by Parliament since 2001, a decade after the Soviet breakup.

Moldovans and politicians across the spectrum have voiced frustration with the slow and complicated procedure, which has repeatedly brought political life to a standstill.

Protesters accuse Prime Minister Pavel Filip's new government and the parliamentary majority, which favors closer integration with Europe, of being deeply corrupt.

One of their demands has been for a referendum that would introduce direct presidential elections while also reducing the number of seats in parliament from 101 to 71 and strip lawmakers targeted by criminal investigations of immunity.

Socialist Party (PSRM) chief Igor Dodon, one of the three opposition leaders, said the coalition's proposal for a referendum did not go far enough, and vowed to continue protests.

"This is way too little," Dodon said on his Facebook page. "We must keep up the pressure until Parliament is dissolved and early elections are called."

Opinion polls say snap elections would heavily favor two pro-Russian parties -- Dodon's PSRM and Renato Usatii's Our Party (PN), which together could expect to garner some 32 percent of the vote.

Dodon and Usatii have emerged as leaders of the current protests together with Andrei Nastase, the leader of Truth and Dignity (DA), a pro-European party.

They accuse the parliamentary majority and Filip's government of being corrupt and under the control of local tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc.

Lawmakers approved Filip's cabinet during a lightning-fast session last week in an effort to end a three-month-old government hiatus, but their hurry and apparent disregard for procedure sparked angry demonstrations.

Protesters broke into the Parliament building shortly and clashed with riot police before being chased out.

Protests grew over the weekend, with some 15,000 attending a rally in Chisinau on January 24, but seemed to have lost steam in recent days.

One of the reasons may be the criticism vented at pro-European Nastase's joining forces with pro-Russian politicians who want to replace closer EU integration with an economic union with Russia.

The protest leaders offered no common reply to speaker Candu's announcement while attending a larger civic forum held in Chisinau on January 29 to discuss the crisis.

It was not immediately clear whether new protests would be called during the weekend.

The protest leaders only maintained a united front in calling for the arrest and prosecution of billionaire Plahotniuc, a former legislator said to control the ruling Democratic Party, the judiciary, and a private media empire.

Plahotniuc has been a main target of public ire since a massive banking-fraud scandal in 2014 shook Moldova -- one of Europe's poorest countries -- and was at the origins of the current crisis.

RFE/RL's Molodvan Service in Chisinau contributed to this report

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