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Moldovan Opposition Vows To Keep Up Protests

Protesters in front of the TeleRadio national television building in Chisinau
Protesters in front of the TeleRadio national television building in Chisinau

Opposition protesters on January 22 continued their push for early elections in Moldova, demanding the resignation of a newly appointed pro-European government.

Thousands gathered for a third-straight day in the center of the capital, Chisinau, and marched to the public television headquarters and the Defense Ministry before wrapping up their protest by announcing a new rally for January 24.

Moldova's Constitutional Court has to this point rebuffed the opposition's hopes for early elections, refusing to annul the January 20 parliamentary approval of Prime Minister Pavel Filip's cabinet.

Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip
Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip

Protest leaders have not backed down, vowing to gather enough signatures from lawmakers to hold an extraordinary session and see Filip dismissed. But the strength of the protest does appear to have waned, with the number of protesters dwindling to some 3,000 from a peak of 7,000 on January 21.

Public anger toward what many Moldovans consider a deeply corrupt political class spiked after the appointment of Filip, who is a member of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) and is perceived as controlled by a controversial oligarch, Vlad Plahotniuc.

The anticorruption protest movement is spearheaded by the leaders of three parties who have formed an unlikely alliance between pro-European and pro-Russian opposition forces.

Igor Dodon of the Socialists and businessman-turned-politician Renato Usatii of the Our Party are advocating closer ties with Moscow, while Andrei Nastase leads the pro-European Dignity and Truth (DA) party.

However, the three have jointly called for snap elections and a referendum to amend the constitution to allow for the president to be elected directly and reduce the number of lawmakers by one-third.

Dodon, Usatii, and Nastase on January 22 made their way into the headquarters of Moldova 1 public television, which they accuse of having a pro-government bias. They were allowed to reiterate their demands live on air.

The three are also united in their scathing criticism of billionaire and media mogul Plahotniuc, a former PD legislator said to have immense wealth and influence in Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries.

Plahotniuc has been the main target of public anger since last year, when some $1 billion -- one-eighth of the country's gross domestic product -- disappeared from Moldova's banking system.

The banking scandal prompted the fall of the government in October and sparked the current crisis, which amplified gradually, bringing Dodon and Usatii to the fore.

Pro-Russian opposition leaders Igor Dodon (left) and Renato Usatiialk at a protest outside the national television building of TeleRadio Moldova in Chisinau, January 22, 2016
Pro-Russian opposition leaders Igor Dodon (left) and Renato Usatiialk at a protest outside the national television building of TeleRadio Moldova in Chisinau, January 22, 2016

On January 20, parliament voted in favor of Filip's cabinet during a stormy session that was repeatedly interrupted by Dodon and other opposition lawmakers.

The vote was rushed through in just 30 minutes after hecklers calling for early elections forced Filip to halt the presentation of his governing program.

According to opinion polls, early elections could be won by Dodon's and Usatii's pro-Russian parties.

Both opposed Moldova’s 2014 signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, and are advocating membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which was built on the foundation of a customs union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Dodon and Usatii have played down their anti-EU stance during the current protest, dwelling on their professed anticorruption fervor.

However, both have criticized the United States for what they say was support for the current political establishment.

Dodon told protesters on January 22 that he had talked to the U.S. ambassador to Moldova, James D. Pettit, and told him Washington was "making a mistake" backing the current government.

Usatii has recently threatened that, if he comes to power, he will close down the U.S. Embassy and open a karaoke bar on the premises.

Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc
Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc

In 2014, Usatii fled to Russia for several months after the first party he established, Homeland, was banned from taking part in that year's parliamentary elections.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on January 22 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed "the worsening situation in Moldova" with permanent members of the Russian Security Council.

In the latest sign of escalating tensions with Moldova, Russia's Foreign Ministry has condemned a decision by Chisinau to deny entry to a number of Russian journalists on January 21 and 22.

"We categorically condemn the Moldovan authorities' policy of limiting the media activity and introducing sanction measures against journalists," the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Klaus Iohannis, the president of neighboring EU member Romania, called his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Timofti, late on January 21 and reassured him of Romania's support for the newly sworn-in government and urging it to undertake reforms.

The European Union and the United States have appealed for dialogue and restraint.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service correspondents in Chisinau

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