CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — A new anti-government protest in Moldova’s capital Tuesday stirred fears of more unrest after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demand that the country’s new pro-Western government fully subsidize citizens’ winter energy bills and to “not involve the country in war.”
The protest in Chisinau was organized by a group calling itself Movement for the People and supported by members of Moldova’s Russia-friendly Shor Party, which holds six seats in the country’s 101-seat legislature.
Demonstrators waved Moldovan flags and honked horns, with many calling for the country’s president to step down. “Down with Maia Sandu!” they chanted, “Down with the dictatorship!”
Dozens of coaches had bussed in protesters from around the country, temporarily causing traffic jams as hundreds of police deployed to bolster security checked vehicles entering the capital. Shor Party leader, the exiled Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor, accused police of trying to “thwart the peaceful rally.”
“Fighting one’s own people is the last refuge of tyrants and the beginning of their downfall,” Shor, who is named on a U.S. State Department sanctions list as working for Russian interests, said in a statement Tuesday.
It is the second anti-government rally held in Chisinau in two weeks and comes amid growing concerns of attempts to destabilize Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor.
On Feb. 13, President Sandu outlined what she claimed was an alleged plot by Moscow to overthrow the government in order to put the nation “at the disposal of Russia,” and to derail it from its course to one day join the 27-nation E.U. Russia strongly rejected her claims.
In carrying out the plan, she said, the culprits would “rely on several internal forces, but especially on criminal groups such as the Shor formation and all of its derivatives.”
The Shor Party also initiated a series of anti-government protests which last fall rocked Moldova — a European Union-candidate member since last June — as it struggled to manage an acute energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced natural gas supplies.
Around the same time, Moldova’s government asked the country’s Constitutional Court to declare the Shor Party illegal. The country’s anti-corruption prosecutors’ office alleged the protests were partly financed with Russian money.
The protest also comes a day after Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service, SIS, said it had expelled two foreign nationals who were caught carrying out “subversive actions” to destabilize Moldova.
The SIS said that the pair were actively monitoring and documenting social and political processes in Moldova, including protests it said were “organized in the capital by certain political forces.”
McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.