The Eastern European country of Moldova has plunged into a political crisis following Sunday's parliamentary election, with the capital Chisinau seeing its worst political violence in decades.
An uneasy peace settled over Chisinau on Wednesday after riot police regained control of the parliament and the president's office early on Wednesday morning. Dozens of protesters gathered early on Wednesday for yet more demonstrations, but there was no sign of the violence that had marked Tuesday's protests.
At least 10,000 people, mainly young people and students, took to the streets of Chisinau Tuesday in protest against what they said was a rigged election result. Protestors stormed the parliament building and ransacked the interior. They threw chairs, tables and computer equipment out the windows and lit a large fire in front of the parliament, where they burned furniture and other objects. A small group managed to break into the president's office.
Fighting broke out between protesters and police in the streets of the capital. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.
The demonstrators, mainly young people and students, carried Moldovan, Romanian and European Union flags and shouted anti-Communist slogans. They accuse the Communists of having rigged Sunday's vote, in which the ruling Communist Party got almost exactly 50 percent, and are calling for new elections. They say Moldova, which is one of Europe's poorest countries, has no future if the Communist Party stays in power. The three main opposition parties managed to get a combined 35 percent of the vote.
According to state television, one woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning inside the parliament. The Interior Ministry said there had been 193 arrests and that around 96 police and 79 demonstrators had been injured. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Ala Meleca said the police would use firearms to restore public order "if necessary."
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin accused pro-EU opposition parties of being behind the protests, which he called an attempted coup. In a statement read out on state television, he called the opposition "fascists (who) want to destroy democracy and independence in Moldova." On Wednesday he said he was "running out of patience" with protesters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the protests were a plot aimed at undermining Moldovan sovereignty and blamed forces supporting a union with Romania.
The leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Vlad Filat, accused the government of reneging on an earlier agreement to recount Sunday's election. He told the news agency Reuters he feared "very serious repression" and warned that "political leaders and participants" might be arrested.
The newly elected parliament has until June 8 to appoint a new president. Voronin is constitutionally barred from serving a third term. The ruling Communist Party, which has been in power since 2001, has taken a more pro-European course in recent years after initially adopting a staunchly pro-Russia stance.
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an average monthly wage of €175. Many Moldovans, especially young people, work abroad and many in the country support reunification with Romania, which would mean joining the EU. Moldova was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940 and approximately 800,000 of its 3.4 million inhabitants have already applied for Romanian citizenship.