Thousands of elderly Moldovans rally against EU, call for closer ties with Russia, Belarus

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Thousands of Moldovans rallied Saturday against closer ties with the European Union, claiming that Russia and Belarus better serve the former Soviet republic's interests.

Some 15,000 mainly elderly people, some waving Communist Party flags, gathered in downtown Chisinau. Many yelled "Down with the government!" or "You thieves!"

The demonstration was led by former president and Communist Party chief Vladimir Voronin. He said Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan could offer cheaper energy to Moldova, a country of 4 million located between Ukraine and Romania.

The government says it will stamp and later sign a partnership agreement with the EU at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week. Russia says the move could lead to a stop in gas supplies and has already banned Moldovan wine, citing quality concerns.

Moldova's Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said Friday the country would stay on the path of European integration, unlike its neighbor Ukraine, which this week shelved a landmark decision to sign an association agreement with the EU under pressure from Russia.

Opinion polls indicate just over half of Moldovans support EU integration. A Nov. 3 rally in favor of Europe was far larger, with an estimated 100,000 people attending.