Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Riots In Moldova

Moldovan riot police regained control of the president's office and Parliament early Wednesday after they were ransacked by protesters who claimed parliamentary elections were rigged.

An Associated Press reporter saw about 100 riot police surround the buildings, which had been stormed a day earlier by protesters who set fire to furniture and hurled computers out of the windows. More than 50 people were injured.

Police arrested 193 people, including eight minors, on charges of "hooliganism and robbery" following the protests against the ruling Communist Party's victory in weekend elections, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Ala Meleca said. Some were suspected of looting shops in Chisinau as the unrest continued into the night.

Authorities on Wednesday cleared streets littered with smashed computers, torn-apart armchairs and broken chairs from the Parliament. They swept up burnt documents and shards of glass. Every window on the first six floors of the 11-story Parliament building was smashed.

President Vladimir Voronin accused pro-European opposition parties of being behind the protests. His Communist Party, which has been in power since 2001, won about 50 percent of the vote in Sunday elections.

In a statement read Tuesday on Moldovan TV by a journalist, Voronin called opposition parties "fascists (who) want to destroy democracy and independence in Moldova." He said authorities would "decisively defend the democratic choice of the people."

The violence started Tuesday after at least 10,000 mostly young protesters gathered outside Parliament, demanding new elections and shouting "Down with the Communists" and "Freedom, freedom." Organizers of the demonstration, which started peacefully, used social messaging network Twitter to spread information about the protests.

"We sent messages on Twitter but didn't expect 15,000 people to join in. At the most we expected 1,000," said Oleg Brega, who heads the non-governmental pro-democracy group Hyde Park. He added that attack on Parliament and the adjacent presidential office was not planned.

Demonstrations continued on Wednesday. About 400 protesters gathered outside the government headquarters in Chisinau and dozens more outside Parliament.

In neighboring Romania, more than 1,000 people, mostly students, gathered in rallies to support the Moldovan protesters. Moldova was part of Romania until 1940.

Two Romanian press groups protested that 18 journalists working for Romanian and international media were not allowed into Moldova by border police on Tuesday. They said the journalists were told they did not have medical insurance or an official invitation, which are not usually required.

International observers said Moldova's election was fair, but Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca said many people voted more than once.

"The elections were fraudulent, there was multiple voting," Chirtoaca, who is also the deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said on Realitatea TV.

Opponents blame the Communists for low living standards and for preventing the former Soviet Republic from forming closer ties with the European Union. Moldova, with a population of 4.1 million, remains one of Europe's poorest nations with an average monthly salary of $350.

Sunday's results allow the Communists to form a majority in the 101-seat legislature, but they may need backing from other parties to elect a new president. Voronin will step down this month after serving a maximum of two terms in power.

The Communists have enjoyed close relations with Russia and say they want to strengthen relations with the European Union. The only foreign leader to congratulate Moldova after the elections was Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

CHISINAU, Moldova -- Moldovan protesters ransacked the president's offices and the parliament Tuesday in violent protests over parliamentary elections that President Vladimir Voronin said amounted to a "coup d'etat."

RIA-Novosti reported that the authorities and opposition leaders agreed late Tuesday to a recount of votes cast in Sunday's parliamentary election, which was easily won by Voronin's Communist Party.

Voronin said in a television address late Tuesday that opposition leaders had embarked on a "path to the violent seizure of power."

"Everything that they have undertaken in the last 24 hours cannot be described as anything other than a coup d'etat," Voronin said, referring to opposition leaders.

He said the authorities "would resolutely defend the state against the leaders of the pogrom."

President Dmitry Medvedev has already congratulated Voronin on his party's election win, and the Foreign Ministry said Russia was deeply concerned by the events in Moldova.

"We are following the situation with concern," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, Interfax reported.

About 10,000 demonstrators massed for a second day in the capital of Europe's poorest country to denounce the vote as rigged. They hurled computers into the street while police took cover behind riot shields.

Moldovan state television said one young woman choked to death from carbon monoxide poisoning in the parliament building.

It cited a senior doctor at Chisinau emergency hospital as saying 34 other protesters had been injured, including two in a serious condition in hospital. Some 80 police officers also received treatment for injuries, it said.

Opposition leaders called for a halt to the protests and said they were pressing for a recount of all votes cast.But they did not confirm the RIA-Novosti report that authorities had agreed to a full recount.

Official results put the Communists in front with close to 50 percent of the vote. The parliament elects the president, and the Communists appeared very close to securing the 61 seats they need in the 101-seat assembly to secure victory for their chosen candidate.

Most of the protesters are students who see no future if Communists keep their hold on the former Soviet republic of 4 million people -- located on the European Union's border but within what Russia sees as its sphere of influence.

The leaders of three opposition parties that won seats in parliament spoke to reporters after emerging from talks with Moldova's president and prime minister in the aftermath of protests that caused serious damage to government buildings.

"We must stop this violence," Dorin Chirtoaca, leader of the Liberal Party and mayor of Chisinau, said. "We must secure the right to a recount of all the votes. And we demanded the right to stage peaceful protests."

Vlad Filat of the Liberal Democrats said the opposition, which stands broadly for closer ties with neighboring Romania, was demanding the right to check all electoral lists.

"As a result of this, I can assure you that the elections were rigged and we will organize a new election."

Protesters overwhelmed riot police protecting both the president's office and the parliament -- located opposite each other on the capital Chisinau's main boulevard -- and poured into both buildings through smashed windows. They heaped tables, chairs and papers onto a bonfire outside parliament, and fires could also be seen in some of the building's windows.

Police were forced to retreat in disarray from attacks by protesters hurling stones and other projectiles.

They withdrew beneath riot shields as demonstrators pushed them from their positions. Some demonstrators were seen chasing police away after seizing truncheons and riot shields.

"The election was controlled by the Communists, they bought everyone off," said Alexei, a student. "We will have no future under the Communists because they just think of themselves."

Voronin has overseen stability and growth since 2001, but he has been unable to resolve an 18-year-old separatist rebellion in the Russian-speaking region of Transdnestr, where Russia has had troops since Soviet times.

Moldova is one of six former Soviet states with which the EU is due to launch a new program of enhanced ties at a summit in Prague next month.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called on all sides to show restraint Tuesday.

"I call on all sides to refrain from violence and provocation. Violence against government buildings is unacceptable," he said in a statement.

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