Several thousand protesters rallied in Moldova’s capital Sunday to demand that the country’s new pro-Western government fully cover citizens’ winter heating bills amid a cost-of-living crisis and skyrocketing inflation.
The protest was organized by a recently formed group called Movement for the People and supported by members of Moldova’s Russia-friendly Shor Party, which holds six seats in the former Soviet republic’s 101-seat legislature.
Some of the demonstrators who converged on Chisinau called for the resignation of the country’s president, chanting “Down with Maia Sandu!” Others held placards with the faces of some Moldova’s leaders and politicians placed next to photographs of large homes and fancy cars.
“They have millions. We are dying of hunger,” they said.
Sandu on Feb. 13 outlined what she claimed was an alleged plot by Moscow to overthrow the government in order to put the nation “at the disposal of Russia,” and to derail it from its course to one day join the European Union.
“Through violent actions, masked under protests of the so-called opposition, the change of power in Chisinau would be forced,” she said. “In carrying out the plan, the authors rely on several internal forces, but especially on criminal groups such as the Shor formation and all of its derivatives.”
Russia strongly denied her claims.
A series of anti-government protests initiated by the Shor Party rocked Moldova during the fall as a severe energy crisis gripped the country after Russia dramatically reduced natural gas supplies.
Around the same time, Moldova’s government asked the country’s Constitutional Court to declare the Shor Party illegal. The country’s anti-corruption prosecutors’ office alleged the protests were partly financed with Russian money.
On Saturday, the office said more than 20 searches were carried out at the homes of party members who were “actively and systematically involved in receiving and distributing money … for the transport and remuneration” of citizens to the protests.
Eight people were arrested, authorities said.
The Shor Party accused authorities of mobilizing thousands of police officers to thwart Sunday’s demonstration and “stop people from entering” the capital.
The party’s leader, Ilan Shor, is a Moldovan oligarch currently in exile in Israel. He is implicated in a $1 billion bank theft and was recently named on a U.S. State Department sanctions list as working for Russian interests.
The U.S. says Shor worked with “corrupt oligarchs and Moscow-based entities to create political unrest in Moldova” and to undermine the country’s bid to join the EU.
The Movement for the People’s website says the group was formed in early February and consists of “several political forces, public associations, local elected officials and civic activists” to address the “unprecedented crises” Moldova and its citizens face.