Protesters break into Moldova's Parliament

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 3:59 PM
Protesters break into Moldova's Parliament

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines on Wednesday to storm Moldova's Parliament after it approved a new government to end months of deadlock between the president and the legislature. Six police officers were injured in the scuffles.

Before the vote, protesters massed outside Parliament waving the Moldovan flag and yelling "early elections" as lawmakers met. Afterward, their numbers swelled to thousands who scuffled with police officers before forcing their way into Parliament. They yelled "Cancel the vote!" and "Thieves!"

Police later pushed the protesters back but they forced their way into the legislature again. Police then sent in reinforcements and protesters were later forced out.

Moldova, an impoverished former Soviet republic of about 4 million, has been locked in political turmoil since up to $1.5 billion went missing from three banks prior to the 2014 parliamentary elections. Weeks of protests in the fall of 2015 demanded a thorough inquiry into the missing money.

Some of the protesters Wednesday believe the new government is a compromise solution which will not tackle endemic corruption and undertake reforms, while others oppose a pro-European government and think Moldova should remain in Russia's orbit.

Police and demonstrators fired tear gas, radio reported, and protesters set fire to part of the fence surrounding Parliament.

Some police officers were beaten by the demonstrators, six of whom were later treated for non-life threatening injuries at the Chisinau Municipal Emergency Hospital, said Eufalia Negreata, a doctor. The head of the pro-European Liberal Party Mihai Ghimpu who voted for the new government, was punched, but did not require hospital treatment.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini called for restraint and a dialogue between the sides and Romania's foreign ministry also appealed for calm. The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau called for authorities to meet with the protesters and treat the issues in a calm and transparent way.

Earlier, Parliament had approved the pro-European government of Pavel Filip, the previous technology minister and a former candy factory manager, with 57 votes. The pro-Russian opposition boycotted the vote.

As the session got underway, lawmakers from the Socialists' Party booed, blew whistles and blocked off part of the Parliament. In the end, Filip merely announced his Cabinet.

He later said he was committed to Moldova joining the European Union. Moldova signed a political and trade association agreement with the EU in 2014, something Russia opposed.

Parliament had to approve a government by Jan. 29 or face being dissolved. Lawmakers dismissed the previous government in October amid corruption allegations.

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Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania also contributed to this report.