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article imageMoldovan protesters set up camp over 'fraud of century'

By Anatoly Golya (AFP)     Sep 7, 2015 in World

Demonstrators pitched around 100 tents in the Moldovan capital Chisinau Monday, demanding the president's resignation and snap elections in the wake of a scandal dubbed the "fraud of the century."

Protesters declared a round-the-clock demonstration in Chisinau's central square after tens of thousands of Moldovans poured onto the streets on Sunday to protest against corruption and fraud in the ex-Soviet country -- the largest such rally in recent years.

"There will be between 100 and 300 of our supporters on the square at all times," protest organiser Vasile Nastase told AFP.

"They will live in the 'Dignity and Justice' tent camp until the authorities fulfil our demands in full," added Nastase, a member of a pro-Western movement called DA, which is organising the protests.

The protests in the poor country of 3.5 million have been triggered by an eye-popping scam that saw 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) -- roughly 10 percent of Moldova's GDP -- mysteriously exit the country.

The scam, uncovered early this year, has been dubbed the "fraud of the century" and came as a devastating blow to Europe's poorest country, triggering the devaluation of the national currency, the leu, and stoking inflation.

Among the demonstrators' demands are the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti, early parliamentary polls and the dismissal of top officials at the central bank and the prosecutor general's office.

Moldova, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, last year signed an association agreement with the European Union (EU) despite opposition from Russia.

-'Thieving authorities'-

Protesters accuse the country's leaders of paying lip service to Western integration, while using their positions of power to enrich themselves.

Tens of thousands of Moldavans rally in the capital Chisinau on September 6  2015 to demand the resi...
Tens of thousands of Moldavans rally in the capital Chisinau on September 6, 2015 to demand the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti and the election of a new head of state

"Something has to change in the country. Authorities are stealing, there is no work," said protestor Ion Cotrutsa. "I am studying to be an economist, but what use is that if the country soon won't have any economy to speak of?"

"We will fight for change," the 23-year-old student told AFP.

"That's what genuine European integration is all about and not what the authorities are doing: they are stealing outrageously while using slogans about European integration as a cover."

The scene from Chisinau's tent camp festooned with EU flags evoked memories of last year's pro-Western Maidan protests in neighbouring Ukraine, which eventually led to the ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader.

The uprising in Ukraine, which claimed more than 100 lives, grew out of disagreement with the Moscow-backed government's reluctance to sign an association agreement with the EU amid a tug-of-war between Russia and the West over the fate of the ex-Soviet country.

Many protesters in Chisinau expressed the hope that the rallies in their capital would not be like Ukraine's uprising.

"We do not think this will lead to the Maidan, like it did in Ukraine," said Victoria Tregubova, a 62-year-old retiree.

Men stand next to tents set up by protesters in Chisinau on September 7  2015
Men stand next to tents set up by protesters in Chisinau on September 7, 2015

The protests are the largest rallies Chisinau has seen since 2009, when mass anti-Communist demonstrations boiled over into violence.

Political analyst Vitaliy Andrievski said it was difficult to predict how the current protest movement would develop, noting the seeming absence of a charismatic leader.

"So far everything is developing spontaneously," he said. "What's most important is to keep calm and maintain the peaceful nature of the rallies."

Russia maintains thousands of troops in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr, bordering Ukraine, and has for years provided much-needed financial aid to the impoverished region that is home to some 180,000 Russian nationals.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Monday the Kremlin was monitoring the protests in Moldova.

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