CHISINAU (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of Moldova’s incoming president Maia Sandu protested on Thursday against a move by parliament to strip her of control of the intelligence service weeks before she takes office.
Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favours closer ties with the European Union, defeated the pro-Moscow incumbent Igor Dodon in last month’s presidential election, but parliament is still dominated by Socialist party lawmakers aligned with Dodon.
The eastern European country of 3.5 million, where the West and Russia vie for influence, has been rocked in recent years by instability and corruption scandals, including the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system.
While the protests continued outside parliament, inside the chamber lawmakers scuffled and threw water over each other as a session to approve next year’s budget descended into acrimony.
Lawmakers from Sandu’s party, supported by others, had earlier blocked the central rostrum, forcing proceedings to be suspended. Sandu’s party wants a snap parliamentary election to unseat the Socialist-led government.
Sandu has described the move to strip her office of control of the Information and Security Service as “an attempt to usurp power” and hobble her presidency.
Parliament passed the measure at the first and second reading simultaneously on Thursday.
“We got the vote of the people in the elections to punish the thieves, to return the stolen money to people,” Sandu said at the protest rally.
“But the thieves got scared, they want to keep the old corruption schemes, they want to throw the voice of the people into a landfill.”
The Socialists argued that, since Moldova was a parliamentary republic, control over the intelligence service should be handed to parliament.
Parliament also passed legislation at the first reading that would give special status to the Russian language, which is widely spoken alongside Romanian in the country that borders Ukraine and EU member state Romania. It also lifted restrictions on broadcasting Russian TV channels.
Opposition lawmakers said they would challenge the legislation at the constitutional court.
Outside, Sandu’s supporters shouted “down with the mafia” and “down with Dodon”.
Sandu struck a conciliatory tone following her election victory and addressed supporters in Russian at the rally. But her call for Russian peacekeepers to withdraw from the breakaway region of Transdniestria prompted the Kremlin to warn it could lead to “serious destabilisation” this week.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)