Moldovans Call for Early Elections as Protesters Pitch Tents

  • Protesters call for President to step down after scandal
  • People angered by $1 billion theft that's straining economy

Moldovan protesters camping outside the government’s headquarters in a make-shift tent city called for early elections following the disappearance of $1 billion from three banks that’s left the country on the verge of bankruptcy.

Several hundred Moldovans pledged to continue peaceful demonstrations after 40,000 to 100,000 people staged a protest against corruption and called for President Nicolae Timofti to resign on Sunday, said Andrei Nastase, a leader of Truth and Dignity, the group that organized the protests.

In an echo of rallies that helped topple a pro-Russian government in neighboring Ukraine last year, demonstrators have called for a crackdown on corruption that they argue is benefiting a select few in the former Soviet republic’s wealthy elite. The unexplained theft of $1 billion from the three banks, equivalent to an one-eighth of economic output, has left Europe’s poorest country struggling to meet its budget commitments and prompted the European Union and the World Bank to put aid disbursements on hold.

“Our intention is not to recreate the Ukrainian Maidan because we don’t want any kind of confrontation,” Nastase said by phone, referring to the square in Kiev where Ukraine’s protests began. “People are paying the consequences of the bank fraud because corrupt leaders continue to serve oligarchs’ interests.”

Leadership Crisis

Moldova ranked 103 of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index last year, on par with Bolivia and Mexico. Graft has risen to the forefront, triggering a leadership upheaval following the unsolved misappropriation.

Chiril Gaburici resigned as prime minister in June after four months in office, giving way to a pro-European government led by Valeriu Strelet, who took office in July. The protesters are willing to talk to officials about their list of demands, according to Nastase.

The threat of default is putting pressure on the Moldovan leu, which has declined more than 18 percent against the dollar this year. Last month, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development called for the central bank to demand lenders disclose their ownership to restore confidence in Moldova’s financial industry and complained that a “serious investigation” into the $1 billion theft had yet to take place.

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