- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

CHISINAU, MOLDOVA (AP) - Moldova’s Communist president called Friday for a recount of ballots in last weekend’s parliamentary elections in an effort to restore stability in a country rocked by riots and claims of voting fraud.

President Vladimir Voronin, who has recently maintained closer ties with Russia than the European Union, said the recount would prove to skeptics that his governing Communist Party fairly won Sunday’s election in the former Soviet republic.

“The elections were democratic and free,” Voronin said in a statement.

“I want a full and transparent recount,” he told reporters.

Later, the president met with the U.S. Ambassador Asif J. Chaudhry and promised to have a “constructive dialogue” with opposition parties, Voronin’s press office said.

Anti-communist protesters who claimed the election was rigged stormed parliament and the president’s office in Chisinau on Tuesday in riots that left more than 90 injured and led to 200 arrests.

Anti-communist protesters who claimed the election was rigged stormed parliament and the president’s office in Chisinau on Tuesday in riots that left more than 90 injured and led to 200 arrests.

Official results said the Communists won about 50 percent of the votes in the election, which international observers declared fair. That result would allow the Communists to maintain their control of parliament, but probably need the support of another party to win enough votes in the new parliament to hold onto the presidency.

“I call on the Constitutional Court to wholly recount the votes,” Voronin said, without saying when that should happen. The president said he believes the recount will “become an important argument for political stability, peace and mutual trust in the Republic of Moldova.”

The 68-year-old president _ who is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term as president _ visited his ransacked office on Friday, standing near graffiti saying “Resignation Communists!” and an image of the Communist hammer and a sickle with a line drawn through it. Speaking in Russian to journalists, he once again accused opposition parties and neighboring Romania of trying to use the riots to overthrow his government.

He claimed the Romanian Embassy, whose ambassador he expelled this week, helped Moldovan students living in Romania to travel home and vote in the election, knowing that most students would vote for the pro-European opposition. Romania has denied involvement, and opposition parties have said the riots were spontaneous.

Meanwhile, about 200 protesters urging the Communist government to resign held a rally Friday in the capital. The protesters _ mostly students _ shouted “Down with the Communists!” and “Resignation!”

“It’s good that the youth have woken up,” said Timofte Croitaru, an 82-year-old retiree joining the protest. “My pension doesn’t cover my living costs.”

Opponents blame the Communists for low living standards and for preventing the country from forming closer ties with the European Union. Moldova, with a population of 4.1 million, remains one of Europe’s poorest nations with an average monthly salary of $350.

The protesters said they wanted a peaceful rally. Some carried flowers, while others waved Moldovan and Romanian flags.

The two neighboring countries are linked through language and history but have followed different paths since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Romania looked West and joined the European Union in 2007, while Moldova’s communist government has stronger ties with Russia.

Moldova was part of Romania until it was occupied by Soviet forces during World War II. It declared independence in 1991 in the aftermath of the Soviet breakup.

Meanwhile, Romanian public television, TVR, called for the immediate release of its Chisinau correspondent, Doru Dendiu, who was detained with another Romanian journalist by police on Friday. Both were later freed, Romanian Agerpres news agency said.

Also, Moldovan journalist Rodica Mahu of the anti-government Jurnal de Chisinau was taken into custody Friday by police for questioning about allegedly planning an attack on the government building, but later released, she said.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said it was “very disturbed” that Moldovan authorities have been arresting Romanian and Moldovan journalists and “even using violence against them,” as they cover the unrest.

___

Associated Press Writer Alison Mutler in Bucharest contributed to this report.

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