CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Some 3,000 people protested in the Moldovan capital Friday for a third day running calling for early elections, better governance and demanding an end to widespread corruption.
The demonstrators marched toward the national television station, Moldova 1, accusing it of pro-government-bias. Leaders from two pro-Russian parties led the march and were joined by members of civic group Dignity and Truth, which wants more transparency and public accountability. They later headed to the capital's main square in sub-zero temperatures and announced a major anti-government rally will be held on Sunday.
Protesters stormed Parliament Wednesday after lawmakers approved a new pro-European government led by Pavel Filip, the former technology minister.
They are angry about falling living standards in the impoverished country and say pro-European parties, which have been in power since 2009, have failed to carry out reforms. They are also calling for a full inquiry into the disappearance of up to $1.5 billion from three banks prior to parliamentary elections in 2014.
The banks were closed down in 2015 and losses were covered by state reserves.
"I want Moldova to be a free country, that doesn't depend on oligarchs," said Alexandru Balaban, 58. "We've had enough of corruption. We want people to have decent salaries and jobs so they don't have to go abroad to work."
The unrest has caused concern in Washington, Brussels and Moscow.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the deteriorating situation in Moldova with the Russian Security Council, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Moldova has stopped several Russian journalists who flew to Chisinau this week to cover the anti-government protests from entering the country, the Russian Tass news agency reported.
The U.S. embassy in Chisinau also urged for calm this week and called for a dialogue between politicians and demonstrators.
The average monthly salary in the impoverished nation is just 220 euros ($240). Some 600,000 Moldovans work abroad in the European Union or Russia and send home remittances.
"We can't live like this anymore with high prices and tiny salaries. They stole the money and we have to deal with the consequences," said Irina Popov, an office worker who was protesting.
The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau and the EU have repeatedly urged Moldova to carry out an investigation into the missing money.
Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was arrested in October 2015 and charged with taking bribes worth $260 million from a businessman to help him gain control of one of the banks. He is currently in jail, pending trial.
Money disappeared from the state savings bank, the Social Bank and Unibank at the end of November 2014. All three banks were put under the central bank's administration in December 2014.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.