Some 40,000 opposition demonstrators on Sunday took to the streets of Moldova’s capital Chisinau calling for early elections as a political crisis continues to rock the tiny ex-Soviet state.
The protest movement — which includes forces from the left and right that are considered both pro-European and pro-Russian — has stepped up demonstrations since a new government for the impoverished nation was approved on Wednesday.
Demonstrators braved sub-zero temperatures to express their anger at rampant corruption among the ruling elite and the influence of oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who is seen as being the real power behind the new administration.
“The people are with us. They do not want to support oligarchs and the criminal authorities!” opposition leader Andrei Nastase told protestors.
A rival pro-government rally that had been scheduled to take place was cancelled at the last moment after organisers said they wanted to avoid any clashes.
Moldova has been locked in political crisis over a $1-billion (925-million-euro) corruption scandal erupted early last year, triggering mass demonstrations and the arrest of former premier Vlad Filat in October.
Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is often seen in terms of a tug-of-war between Moscow and the West, especially after it inked an historic EU association agreement in 2014 despite bitter opposition from former master Russia.
But the current protests have seen both nominally pro-Western and pro-Russian forces from the right and left temporarily put aside their differences to challenge a ruling elite they accuse of using pro-European rhetoric to cover up widespread graft.
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