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Moldovans Protest Mayoral Vote Annulment
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CHISINAU -- Thousands of people demonstrated in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, on June 24 to protest the nullification of mayoral election results that had shown a victory for a pro-Western candidate.

Protesters carried Moldovan and European Union flags while marching through the streets of Chisinau, chanting: "Thieves!" and "They stole my vote!"

The demonstration was organized after a Moldovan appeals court on June 21 upheld a lower court ruling issued two days earlier that invalidated the results of Chisinau's mayoral election, citing violations by both candidates of the country's campaign laws.

The results of the June 3 run-off election had shown Andrei Nastase, an anti-corruption activist and pro-EU politician, with 52.5 percent of the vote – enough to defeat Socialist Party candidate Ion Ceban, who has called for closer relations with Russia.

The initial court ruling on June 19 voided the election results on the grounds that both candidates had addressed voters on social media on election day, after the legal end of campaigning.

The appeals court upheld the ruling, saying social media communications with voters illegally affected the outcome of the race.

Nastase contends that neither he nor Ceban campaigned about their political platforms on election day, saying they had merely called on voters to go out and cast their ballots.

Nastase and critics of the court ruling point out decisions by other European courts that a simple call to vote on election day does not constitute illegal campaigning.

Nastase, insisting that the Moldovan court decisions were politically motivated, has vowed to appeal to Moldova's Supreme Court.

The nullification of the Chisinau election has been criticized by the EU and the United States.

Women in Saudi Arabia now no longer have to rely on husbands, fathers, and brothers for vehicular transportation. (file photo)

Saudi Arabia's top religious authority welcomed an end to a decades-old ban on female driving on June 24, hours after women started taking to the wheel as part of a liberalization drive in the conservative Muslim-majority kingdom.

The Council of Senior Scholars, a pro-state body, said a royal decree allowing women to drive was in society's interest.

King Salman issued the decree in September 2017 in response to a series of campaigns by Saudi women and international rights groups, which condemned the ban as a symbol of oppression.

The decree is considered part of an announced liberalization process under powerful Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Since the decree came into effect just after midnight on June 24, women in the country no longer have to rely on husbands, fathers, and brothers for vehicular transportation.

According to human rights officials, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that had banned women from driving.

Samira al-Ghamdi, 47, a psychologist from Jeddah who was one of the first Saudi women to receive a driving license, said "we are ready, and it will totally change our life."

Despite the new rights, activists in the country say women remain oppressed in the male-dominated society.

"No matter my capabilities as a woman, I am still enslaved to somebody else," activist Manal al-Sharif told Thomson Reuters in an interview.

"Freedom for me is to live with dignity, and if my dignity and freedom is controlled by a man, I will never be free," added Sharif, who was jailed 2011 after she filmed a video of herself driving.

Saudi authorities have in the past two months detained and accused at least 16 people of treason, including several identified as women's rights activists.

Some have since been released.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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