Thousands of Moldovan protesters took to the streets on Sunday protesting corruption and calling for early elections, Reuters said. The demonstrations are likely to continue today, according to Doina Ipatii, a reporter from OCCRP partner RISE Moldova.
About 7,000 demonstrators amassed near government buildings early Sunday, Reuters said. Andrei Nastase, leader of the opposition party Dignity and Truth Civil Platform (DA), read out a resolution by the protesters calling for early parliamentary elections, simultaneous presidential elections and a referendum no later than July, the Moldovan news site Independent said.
The DA decided to call the rally on April 24 after Moldova’s Central Election Commission rejected its demands for a referendum, according to TASS news agency. The party had wanted a referendum on four issues: direct presidential elections; removal of presidents by referendum; stripping lawmakers of immunity; and reducing the number of parliamentary seats.
“They are calling for [Prime Minister] Pavel Filip’s resignation because his government was secretly sworn in late in the night…” said Ipatii. “President Timofti chose Mr. Filip as a compromise candidate….but opposition deputies and many Moldovans claim that the billionaire Vlad[imir] Plahotniuc would run the country from behind the scenes.”
Plahotniuc is one of the Moldova’s wealthiest men, according to Reuters. An investigation by RISE Moldova found he is connected to a network of business and media interests worth in excess of US$ 50 million. Ipatii said allegations of connections between Plahotniuc and Filip have not been proven.
Some of Sunday’s demonstrators made their way to Plahotniuc’s house, Reuters said, shouting “Down with the mafia” and “Power to the people, not to the oligarchs.” They were met by hundreds of police with shields and batons who formed a barrier around the property.
Crowds also approached a business center owned by Plahotniuc, throwing stones, sticks and eggs at police guarding the building, Reuters said. Interior Minister Alexander Jizdan said police were protecting the business center because it could have been “stormed,” reported the Moldovan Independent. He said 17 police staff were injured in clashes with protesters, with five currently in the hospital.
Jizdan said the April 24 protest organizers, leaders of Dignity and Truth Civil Platform, would be invited to meet with police concerning the clashes, according to TASS News Agency and the Independent. Police are opening a criminal case against demonstrators who may have destroyed property or acted violently toward law enforcement authorities, among other things.
Protesters stormed Parliament demanding early elections after the appointment of Prime Minister Pavel Filip in January. In March, a court ruled in favor of having direct national elections to choose a president rather than a vote in Parliament, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, but this has failed to satisfy protesters, according to Reuters.
Popular discontent in Moldova has been growing since last year, when reporters uncovered the disappearance of US$ 1 billion from three Moldovan banks that were bailed out with taxpayer-guaranteed loans, according to previous reporting by the OCCRP and partner RISE Moldova. The parties involved also ran a larger US$ 20 billion money-laundering scheme uncovered by OCCRP network reporters.