Moldova's police chief has fired six officers for publicly backing a rival government amid a political standoff that has heightened tensions in one of Europe's poorest countries.
Alexandru Panzari dismissed the six early on June 12 after they voiced support for a coalition government formed on June 8 following months of political deadlock.
The new cabinet led by Maia Sandu was declared unconstitutional on June 9 by a court that also dismissed President Igor Dodon, dissolved parliament, and called snap elections for September 6.
Panzari is loyal to the Democratic Party-led government led by Prime Minister Pavel Filip that refuses to cede power.
The Democratic Party, led by tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc, has been backed by Moldova's Constitutional Court, which appointed Filip as a stand-in for Dodon in order to allow him to call the election. Plahotniuc controls a vast business and media empire, and many say he has been ruling Moldova from the shadows.
Panzari later prevented Sandu's Interior Minister Andrei Nastase from entering the police headquarters and engaged into a scuffle with him.
Sandu and Nastase, whose parties have formed a political alliance that ran jointly in inconclusive February parliamentary polls, warned Panzari that he and anyone else obstructing her government will face legal action.
Nastase last year won the mayoral polls in the capital, Chisinau, but his victory was annulled by the Supreme Court in a move that many said had been ordered by Plahotniuc.
Sandu's coalition cabinet comprises her and Nastase's pro-Europe ACUM alliance, and Dodon's Moscow-friendly Socialist Party -- an unlikely alliance that some critics say could be tilted toward Russia, which still has some 1,000 troops in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region.
"Every illegal action you take means heavy prison years for complicity or even participating in usurping state power," Sandu said in a statement. She urged police officers and other public servants to ignore orders from the Pavel government.
The Constitutional Court, which the ACUM alliance says is controlled by Plahotniuc, has ruled that Sandu's government was formed after a 90-day postelection deadline and therefore is not valid.
Russia has come out in support of the new coalition.
"Moscow welcomes the formation of a ruling coalition and government in the Republic of Moldova," the Foreign Ministry said on June 10, adding that it looks forward to working "jointly with the democratically elected bodies of power in Moldova."
The United States, the EU, and NATO have all issued carefully worded statements urging both sides to show restraint.
In a related development, on June 12, the Moldovan ambassador to the United States, Cristina Balan, was recalled to Chisinau for consultations by Sandu's government. It was not immediately clear whether Balan would heed the call and return to Chisinau.
Meanwhile, dozens of supporters of Filip's government have been camping outside state institutions since June 9.