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Moldovans erupt in protest after decades of silence

Thousands of young Moldovans stormed through the capital to protest alleged fraud in elections won by the Communist Party.

By Correspondent / April 8, 2009

A protester walks past security forces that barricaded themselves behind their shields outside the Parliament in Chisinau, Moldova, on Tuesday. Protesters broke into the president's office and hurled furniture and computers on the street.

Gleb Garanich/Reuters

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MOSCOW – Twenty years ago, as Romanians were overthrowing their despotic Communist ruler Nicolae Ceausescu in an explosive discovery of freedom, their ethnically Romanian brethren in next-door Moldova – then still part of the USSR – were quiescent.

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In recent years, as nearby Georgians and Ukrainians launched pro-democracy "colored revolutions" that brought down their bureaucratic regimes, the citizens of now-independent Moldova, having elected Europe's only Communist Party government in 2001, remained conspicuously calm and silent.

But on Tuesday, thousands of young Moldovans surprised the world by erupting into the streets of the capital Chisinau to protest alleged fraud in Sunday's elections, which saw the ruling Communist Party returned with 50 percent of the votes.

The protesters moved rapidly through the city, telegraphing their plans to supporters via text-messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, and succeeded in trashing several government offices and the president's headquarters and setting fire to the Parliament before riot troops clawed back control by early Wednesday.

Nearly 100 police were injured, more than 200 protesters were hurt during the riots, and 193 were arrested, according to Moldova's Interior Ministry. A few hundred demonstrators were reportedly regrouping Wednesday, but experts said the worst was probably over for now.

"I can't say it was the beginning of a revolution," says Arkady Barbaroshiye, director of the independent Institute of Public Policy in Chisinau. "It was a spontaneous protest by young people, mostly students, caused by rumors of falsification in the elections. The deeper causes are poverty, hopeless prospects for youth, and the deterioration of democratic standards in this country."

Communist President Vladimir Voronin declared victory, announcing that a Romanian-inspired "colored revolution" had been averted in his country.

"We know that certain forces from Romania masterminded these riots," he told journalists. "Romanian flags which were planted on state buildings in Chisinau prove this."

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