Moldovan police on Saturday fired tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters during a parade to mark the former Soviet republic’s independence day.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered near the main square of Chisinau, Moldova’s capital. Many shouted “thieves!” and “shame on you!” as President Nicolae Timofti and other officials laid floral wreaths at a monument honoring Stephen the Great, a 15th-century Moldovan hero.
Few citizens were permitted to enter the square amid heavy police security. No injuries from Saturday’s clashes were reported.
Underlining tensions, Timofti said in a speech earlier Saturday that Moldova’s independence and security were undermined by the presence of “foreign military forces that are on the country’s territory against the wishes of the population.”
He was referring to the presence of 1,000 Russian peacekeepers in the pro-Russian separatist enclave of Trans-Dniester in eastern Moldova.
Trans-Dniester broke away from Moldova in 1990 amid fears that it wanted to reunite with Romania, which Moldova was part of until 1940. Some 1,500 died in a war in 1992 between Moldovans and separatists.
European Union member Romania has a close relationship with Moldova. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Saturday the day was an occasion to “support projects which seek to improve the lives of all Moldovan citizens and fulfil their European destiny.”
Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, declared independence on Aug. 27, 1991, as the Soviet Union unraveled.
The economically struggling nation depends on Russia for most of its gas. Figures published this week found that more than a quarter of Moldova’s citizens have emigrated for work, and more than half of them work in Russia.