Police limit anti-government protest in Moldova
By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) - Police in Moldova kept several thousand demonstrators away from government buildings on Sunday after officials warned of possible organised disorder at the protest, the latest of a series denouncing pro-European President Maia Sandu.
The rally followed weeks of competing warnings of impending trouble in ex-Soviet Moldova, where missiles have repeatedly landed near its border with Ukraine during Russia's year-long invasion of its neighbour.
Moldova accused Russia last month of plotting to overthrow Sandu, while the United States pledged to support her government against destabilisation.
Russia has expressed concern about tensions in Transdniestria, a separatist region where it has kept some 1,500 "peacekeepers" since a brief war that broke out after the collapse of Soviet rule.
On Sunday, some 4,500 protesters decrying high prices massed in the capital Chisinau, but police in riot gear set up roadblocks with buses to confine them to a district far from government buildings.
Officials said 54 people were detained on public order violations. Several busloads of demonstrators were kept from entering the capital.
The main force behind the protests is opposition politician Ilan Sor, an exiled businessman convicted of fraud in connection with a $1 billion bank scandal.
"Why do Moldova's Western partners support Maia Sandu, yet shut their eyes when people are kept away from the government to express their needs," Marina Tauber, head of Sor's party, told the gathering. "Can you see this in any other European country?"
Andrei Spinu, head of Sandu's administration, denounced Sunday's rally as "not a protest. This was yet another attempt by Russia to destabilise the situation in Moldova."
Moldovan police chief Viorel Cernauteanu earlier told reporters that officers had staged a series of raids and detained seven people on suspicion of trying to cause serious disruption at demonstrations.
Sandu was elected by a landslide in 2020 on a pledge to clean up corruption and has since started the long process of applying for European Union membership.
A new pro-Western government under former Interior Minister Dorin Recean took office in mid-February in one of Europe's poorest countries. The previous administration was forced from office after protracted turmoil and difficulties in paying high prices for Russian gas.
(Editing by Ron Popeski, Editing by William Maclean)