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article imagePro-Russian candidate wins Moldova presidency

By Anatol Golea (AFP)     Nov 13, 2016 in Politics

Pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon on Monday emerged as winner of Moldova's hotly disputed presidential runoff, branded an East-West tug-of-war.

With 99.9 percent of ballots counted, Socialist Party chief Dodon had 52.3 percent of the votes, according to the electoral commission, with pro-European rival Maia Sandu on 47.7 percent.

"We have won, everyone knows it," Dodon told a press conference overnight.

But Sandu said on Monday that she does not accept the outcome of the vote in the impoverished ex-Soviet country.

"These elections were neither proper nor free," she said at a press conference.

"We faced lies and manipulation, the use of dirty money, administrative resources and mass media against us."

Some 1,000 people gathered on the central square of the capital Chisinau to protest against the result, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

L.Saubadu / J.Jacobsen, AFP

The demonstrators decried the "rigged elections", calling on the foreign minister and electoral commission leadership to resign over their failure to ensure that all eligible Moldovan nationals residing abroad could vote.

Protesters shouted "We need a European president!" and "Jail Dodon!" as police stood by.

The full results are expected to be announced later this week.

- Ties with Moscow -

Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, the tiny nation of 3.5 million people is caught in a political tug-of-war between Russia and the West.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow respected the results and congratulated the winner.

A man casts his vote at a polling station in Sadova  on November 13  2016
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Sadova, on November 13, 2016
Daniel Mihailescu, AFP

Dodon had come out top in the first round of voting on October 30 with 48 percent ahead of Sandu, a centre-right former education minister who worked for the World Bank, with 38 percent.

Dodon -- who served as economy minister under a communist government between 2006 and 2009 -- has called for deeper ties and boosting trade with Moscow.

Sandu meanwhile had urged a path towards Europe, calling for the withdrawal of thousands of Russian troops from the Russian-speaking separatist region of Transdniester, which broke away in the early 1990s after a brief civil war.

Moldova signed an historic EU association agreement in 2014, and half of its exports now go to the bloc.

The move was bitterly opposed by Russia, which responded with an embargo targeting Moldova's crucial agriculture sector.

"Close ties united us with Moldova before but then the scope of our relations slid," Peskov told journalists on Monday.

"But Russia has always been and remains committed to maintaining ties with Moldova."

Presidential candidate Maia Sandu casts her vote at a polling station in Chisinau November 13  2016
Presidential candidate Maia Sandu casts her vote at a polling station in Chisinau November 13, 2016
Daniel Mihailescu, AFP

Both candidates criticised the vote as badly organised, highlighting the shortage of ballot papers for overseas voters. More than 4,000 Moldovan and international observers were on hand to monitor the vote.

Turnout was 53.4 percent, the electoral commission said.

- Corruption scandals -

The vote comes as a Moscow-friendly general also claimed victory in ex-communist Bulgaria's presidential election on Sunday, prompting Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to announce his resignation as his nominee was dealt a crushing defeat.

Speaking at a polling station on Sunday, Dodon had described his campaign as "against the oligarchs, against those who have robbed our country and want to destroy it".

Moldova has been rocked by corruption scandals and political turmoil in recent years.

In 2014, $1 billion (920 million euros) mysteriously disappeared from three banks, prompting huge street protests and the arrest of former prime minister Vlad Filat, who has since been convicted of corruption and abuse of office.

A recent report published by Transparency International called the country "the regional launderer for money of dubious origin".

Moldova's current Prime Minister Pavel Filip, who has served since January, is pro-European and introduced political changes including the direct presidential vote.

Filip on Monday called for Dodon to keep the country on a pro-European path.

"The association agreement with the EU and the reforms are irreversible and relate to national interests," Filip wrote on his Facebook page.

"It is important to cooperate for the success of key reforms, which are essential to the country's modernisation."

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