The poverty-racked European nation of Moldova slid into chaos Tuesday as thousands of stone-hurling youths demonstrating against what they said were rigged national elections overran key government buildings.
Police were unable to keep protesters from ransacking the building in the capital, Chisinau, that houses the legislature and storming the offices of President Vladimir Voronin. It was unclear whether Voronin was in the building at the time.
“What we are having here now is a spontaneous, unorganized revolution,” Anatoly Tseranu, an independent liberal legislator, said of the estimated 10,000 demonstrators.
At an emergency meeting with top government officials, Voronin condemned the violence. “True patriots would not resort to this,” he said. “This action has been well arranged, planned, coordinated and paid for. Its organizers are seeking bloodshed.”
Fueling the violence were allegations made by opposition leaders that Voronin’s Communist Party-led government had falsified legislative elections Sunday in a bid to hold on to power.
Legislative elections in Moldova are pivotal because the president is selected by lawmakers. Voronin, who became president in 2001, has served two terms and is legally barred from a third. But the results of Sunday’s elections preserved his party as the dominant political force.
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in preliminary findings that the vote was largely free and democratic, though it was marred by allegations of police intimidation of voters and candidates.
Opposition party leaders denounced the balloting as fraudulent, saying there was evidence of multiple voting. Demonstrators demanded a recount.
“We have renamed election day as a ‘day of mourning’ for us,” said Ghenadie Brega, a member of the opposition movement. “They have stolen our future.”
Feeding the distrust: On election day, some exit polls showed 45.5% of voters had favored the Communists, but final results gave the party about 50% of the vote and control of Parliament.
Moldova, a former Soviet republic curled between Ukraine and Romania, has a population of about 4.1 million and is regarded as one of Europe’s poorest nations. The average wage is about $350 a month.
Though Voronin maintains friendly ties with the Kremlin, Moldova has also sought to bolster its relations with the European Union.
Russian television showed legions of demonstrators massing around Parliament on Tuesday, waving flags of the European Union, Moldova and Romania and chanting, “Down with communism!” and “We want Europe!”
Waves of demonstrators broke through police cordons and began pelting windows in Parliament and presidential office buildings with rocks and chunks of concrete.
Once inside, demonstrators set furniture ablaze and tossed computers out windows. Police tried to use water cannons to fend off oncoming protesters but failed. By Tuesday night, demonstrators had taken up positions in the buildings, declaring they were staying put.
More than 30 demonstrators and 10 police officers were hospitalized, according to Russian news agency reports.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for the restoration of calm.
“I call on all sides to refrain from violence and provocation,” he said. “Equally important is the respect for the inalienable right for assembly of peaceful demonstrators.”
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.