Promises of retribution from Moldova’s president threatened to further fan post-election chaos Wednesday, a day after anti-communist protesters — summoned by Facebook and Twitter — ransacked the government buildings.
An estimated 10,000 gathered Tuesday, a spontaneous mob called out to the central square in the capital, Chisinau. That followed protests on Monday that were peaceful. The protesters, mostly students, plan more action Wednesday to rally against an election they say was rigged. The students were expected to be joined by leaders of opposition parties in calling for fresh parliamentary elections in the former Soviet state, wedged between Ukraine and Romania.IReport: Send your photos and emails. Demonstrators claim the ruling Communist Party manipulated Sunday’s election results to make it appear that it had won 50 percent of the vote, a majority that would allow the party to select a new president and amend the Constitution. Although election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found the voting largely free, many Moldovans disagreed. “There were too many frauds,” said Alina Radu, director of the weekly newspaper Ziarul de Garda. Her newspaper’s Web site asked readers Wednesday morning to send in instances of voter abuse. “In just half an hour, we had tens and hundreds of cases,” Radu said. A woman wrote saying the voter list showed her son and husband as having voted, Radu said. The son was studying in Japan; the husband had died. Many of Sunday’s voters were first-timers, disillusioned and then outraged by the alleged vote manipulation. Tuesday’s demonstrations were “led by students and it caught the opposition political leaders by surprise,” said Tammy Lynch, senior fellow at Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy. “Because I think that after talking to the Western observers, they didn’t expect they would get any support for protests.” The crowd quickly grew in number to more than 10,000. “It seemed to be undirected,” Lynch said. “A lot of students felt angry they were being ignored and took out their anger on buildings.” The protesters yanked bricks from pavements and sidewalks and threw them at riot police. The officers responded with batons and water cannon.
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Vastly outnumbered, the police beat a retreat, leaving the rioters free reign of the parliament building and the presidential offices. They smashed windows, ransacked offices, tore documents and tossed them onto the cheering masses like confetti, and heaped furniture in a pile before setting it ablaze. Dozens were wounded; dozens were arrested. President Vladimir Voronin accused the opposition parties of fomenting the chaos. “This protest has been well thought-out, organized and paid for,” he said in a televised address Tuesday night. “We will establish all those who prepared those acts, taking into consideration that there had been talk about not recognizing those elections one month before they actually took place.” Opposition party leaders denounced the violence, saying they want to achieve their goal peacefully. “We’ve called this election a day of mourning,” Ghenadie Brega, one of the opposition leaders, told reporters. “Our future was stolen from us.” Many citizens suspected a Communist Party plot. “The vast majority of people want to demonstrate peacefully,” said Marius Vatrici, who lives in Romania but has roots and family in Moldova. “I talked to my family and friends, and they feel there were people planted inside so the communists have reasons and proofs that, ‘OK, they are evil and we have to stop them.’ ” By Wednesday, police had regained control of the buildings — or what remained of them. “There is not much to take under control,” said Radu, the newspaper director. “As a building, yes. As a parliament, no.” The demonstrators have said they will continue their movement. “I feel the protesters need a strong leader to lead this movement that we don’t have right now,” said resident Mihai Moscovici. “The crowds, they can protest, but if there is no leader, few results may be achieved.” To prevent another violent outbreak, riot police remained in large numbers in the capital. And the president went on the air with a stern warning to protesters to reconsider. “Unfortunately, the message was not calling on the protesters to calm down or for everyone to sit down and discuss,” Radu said. “It was like, ‘Everybody will be punished.’ And it is the worst a president could say at this time. It just angers everyone even more.”