Moldovan President Urges Extra Powers For Police Amid Ongoing Pro-Moscow Disturbances

By RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has called on the government to give special powers to security forces to crack down on an ongoing street protest that she said was aimed at installing a pro-Russian leadership.

The protests that started on September 19 are organized by the Russian-friendly Shor Party, whose wealthy populist leader Ilan Shor fled the country in 2019 following fraud and money-laundering convictions two years earlier.

Some of the protesters have set up tents outside parliament and the presidential residence, demanding the resignation of Sandu's pro-Western government and voicing their professed anger over rising prices.

Sandu asked the government on October 11 to amend legislation to give more powers to law enforcement agencies, accusing "some actors from within the local administration of sabotaging the country's stability," an apparent reference to Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban, a member of Russian-backed ex-President Igor Dodon's Socialist Party.

Her call came after Ceban on October 10 used city vehicles to block the capital's main thoroughfare in a gesture of support for the protesters occupying the boulevard with their tents.

"Betrayal of the motherland will be severely punished. Those who sow panic and want war will be punished according to the law," Sandu said.

She said the protesters "promise Moscow to establish a government that will be loyal to Russia."

Sandu defeated Dodon to win the 2020 presidential election in Moldova, which borders Romania and Ukraine, and has pursued pro-Western policies that have put her at odds with Moscow.

She has condemned Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, while Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies in an ongoing dispute over energy payments.

Sandu's critics say she should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, Moldova's main supplier.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has been invited to open membership talks with the European Union together with Ukraine in the wake of the invasion.

"We are doing everything to maintain peace and stability in our country," Sandu said. "But the pressure on us is growing daily. There are more and more attempts to destabilize the situation and divide us."

Fears of a spillover from the Ukraine conflict have persisted since the Russian invasion amid concerns that Moscow could attempt to create a land corridor through southern Ukraine to Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester.

Russia maintains some 1,500 soldiers in Transdniester who are said to be guarding a huge Soviet-era arms depot.

Besides the troops ostensibly guarding the depot, Russia has another 400-500 soldiers in Transdniester that have been described as peacekeepers since the end of a 1992 war between Moldova and Transdniester that ended in a tense cease-fire enforced by Russian troops.