Pro-Russia protesters storm Moldova parliament
Hundreds of protesters broke into Moldova’s parliament on Wednesday (20 January), shortly after MPs approved the nomination of a new, pro-EU prime minister.
The Reuters news agency reports that members of the crowd, which had called for new elections, scuffled with police in riot gear, leading to minor injuries and arrests.
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The demonstration, reminiscent of the pro-Western, so-called Colour Revolutions of 10 years ago, was the latest in a series of protests which are being organised, in the main part, by pro-Russian opposition parties, such as Our Party of oligarch Renato Usatii, EU sources say.
Opinion polls indicate that if elections were held, the opposition could sweep to power, putting in doubt Moldova’s EU integration.
The EU foreign service, for its part, called for “calm and restraint from all sides.”
“We encourage all stakeholders in the country to engage in a dialogue and to find, together, a way forward for the Republic of Moldova," it said on Wednesday.
But the protests, which have rumbled, on and off, since February last year also involve pro-transparency and anti-corruption groups.
Wednesday’s rally numbered about 3,000 people. But a protest in September involved up to 100,000 - nearly 3 percent of the population.
The unrest comes after a banking scandal in 2014, in which up to $1.5 billion vanished from three lenders in what is Europe’s poorest country.
The new PM, Pavel Filip, a 49-year old former sweets factory manager and communications minister in the ruling Democratic Party, won 57 out of 101 votes in the chamber on Wednesday.
"The people of Moldova don't need a government that says pleasant things, but a government that solves their problems," he said after the result.
Members of the pro-Russian Socialist party also heckled proceedings and held up banners saying “Early elections!”.
Filip’s elevation comes after two previous candidates, Vlad Plahotniuc, an oligarch, and Ion Paduraru, a member of the president’s staff, fell by the wayside. If the Filip vote had also failed, the president would have been forced to call the snap vote.
Filip is Moldova’s third prime minister in less than a year.
His predecessor, Valeriu Strelet, was ousted in a no-confidence motion in October. Strelet’s predecessor, Chiril Gaburici, stepped down in June amid allegations he lied about school diplomas.
Another former PM, and one-time pro-EU darling, Vlad Filat, was arrested on bribery charges last year.
Moldova, like Ukraine, has signed an association and free-trade treaty with the EU. It was also granted visa-free travel and had been seen as a front-runner in the EU’s Eastern Partnership project, designed to build closer ties with former Soviet states.
Part of the country - Transniestria - broke away in a civil war in the 1990s and still hosts a Russian arms dump and thousands of Russian soldiers.
It's in a strategic location, amid concerns that if Russia reignites fighting in Ukraine, it could try to connect Russia-occupied regions to Transniestria, cutting off Ukraine from the Black Sea.
EU diplomats say the Russia-linked unrest is similar to events in Montenegro, where protesters, also under an anti-corruption banner, have called for the country’s pro-Nato leader to go.