CHISINAU, Moldova – Moldova's president on Wednesday accused neighboring Romania of backing violent anti-communist protesters who stormed his office and Parliament, leaving dozens injured and some 200 arrested.
Vladimir Voronin's comments raised tensions between the two countries, which are linked through language and history but which have followed diverging 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.
Riot police regained control of the Parliament and presidential office early Wednesday, after they were ransacked by protesters who claimed last weekend's parliamentary elections were rigged.
"Romania is behind these protests and events in Moldova," Voronin said after meeting government officials, Radio Moldova reported. His Communist Party, which has been in power since 2001, won about 50 percent of the vote in the elections Sunday.
Voronin declared Romania's ambassador to Moldova, Filip Teodorescu, persona non grata, and said he plans to introduce visas for Romanian citizens, Moldovan news agencies reported. Romanians and other European Union citizens have until now been able to enter Moldova without visas.
In a statement, Romania's Foreign Ministry said it "categorically rejects accusations about its involvement" in the riots. "It is unacceptable for the Communist authorities to transfer responsibility for their internal problems to Romania and Romanian citizens," it said.
Moldovan authorities are uneasy about what they see as growing Romanian influence in the country, which was part of Romania until 1940. About two-thirds of Moldovans are ethnic Romanians speaking a virtually identical language. The others are ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.
The protests Tuesday also highlighted a generational gap in Moldova, where many young people look West but older generations support the Communists. The violence started after at least 10,000 mostly young protesters gathered outside Parliament, demanding new elections. Organizers of the demonstration, which started peacefully, used social messaging network Twitter to spread information about the protests.
"We sent messages on Twitter but didn't expect 15,000 people to join in. At the most we expected 1,000," said Oleg Brega, who heads the non-governmental pro-democracy group Hyde Park. He added that the attack on Parliament and the adjacent presidential office was not planned.
The president blamed pro-European opposition parties in his country for the violence, calling them "fascists (who) want to destroy democracy and independence in Moldova.
Police arrested 193 people, including eight minors, on charges of "hooliganism and robbery" following the protests, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Ala Meleca said. Some were suspected of looting shops in Chisinau as the unrest continued into the night. She said 96 police had been injured in the unrest.
Authorities on Wednesday cleared streets littered with smashed computers, torn-apart armchairs and broken chairs from the Parliament. They swept up burnt documents and shards of glass. Every window on the first six floors of the 11-story Parliament building was smashed.
Demonstrations continued on Wednesday. At least 3,000 protesters gathered outside the government headquarters in Chisinau and dozens more outside Parliament.
In Romania, more than 1,000 people, mostly students, gathered in rallies to support the Moldovan protesters.
Two Romanian press groups protested that 18 journalists working for Romanian and international media were not allowed into Moldova by border police on Tuesday.
International observers said Moldova's election was fair, but Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said many people voted more than once.
Iurie Ciocan, an election official, said the opposition's claims about irregularities would be examined Wednesday, Chisinau TV station Pro-TV reported.