Moldova president orders vote recount

CHISINAU (AFP) — Moldova's president on Friday ordered a recount of disputed elections won by the Communists that sparked bloody riots by their opponents and a diplomatic crisis with Romania.

The Communists cemented their eight-year dominance of Moldovan politics in the weekend polls, gaining 60 of the 101 seats in the new parliament which will decide soon on a successor to President Vladimir Voronin.

Voronin, strongman since 2001 when the Moldovan Communists became the first Communist Party to win power in the former Soviet Union, requested a recount in an apparent bid to restore confidence in his embattled leadership.

"I am convinced that a complete recount of votes will become a major argument for maintaining political stability, peace and mutual trust in Moldova," he said.

A recount had been major demand of the youth protest movement that called its supporters out onto the streets at the start of the week and then saw the demonstration sweep out of control into a full scale riot.

Voronin had blamed Moldova's neighbour Romania for stirring up the riots and ordered the expulsion of the Romanian ambassador, sparking an unprecedented diplomatic row with the new EU member.

Dozens were wounded and almost 200 arrested after the riots that saw protestors storm parliament and hurl furniture onto the street below.

In stark contrast to the scenes of chaos at the start of this week, only a handful of protestors Friday responded to a new call by opposition youth groups to denounce the election.

An AFP correspondent said only a couple of dozen people had turned out and there was no sign of flags or banners bearing slogans.

After boasting of using restrained tactics in that protest, Voronin has vowed to clamp down hard against any future riots in Europe's poorest country.

There has been concern over the fate of those arrested after the demonstrations and Amnesty International has urged the government to distinguish between troublemakers and peaceful activists.

Two 17-year-olds who were interviewed by an AFP journalist were taken to a police station and asked about the contents of the interview. One was released rapidly but the whereabouts of the other was unknown.

"These are fundamental violations of human rights. A saw a dozen mothers and fathers at the police station who were looking for their children," said human rights lawyer Vitaly Nagacevski.

Youth opposition groups summoned supporters using telephone SMS text messages and social networking websites at the start of the week but the turnout exceeded their expectations and events rapidly swung out of control.

The established political opposition was also apparently caught out by the protests, acknowledging they had been established by youth groups and were taken aback by their magnitude.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that on Wednesday morning a Russian plane arrived in Chisinau from Moscow carrying gas grenades that could be use by the police for crowd control.

However Moldovan interior ministry spokesman Alla Meleka denied the report.

"I can say that the Moldovan interior ministry has enough forces and technical and other means, and special technology to preserve constitutional order in Moldova".

Moldova, Europe's poorest country and with a population of 4.3 million people, was part of Romania after World War I until it was annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. Romanian is the official language.

Election results released Wednesday showed the Communists garnered 49.48 percent of the vote, gaining 60 parliament seats -- one less than the three-fifths required for the party to control the presidential election.

The new parliament will be tasked with electing a successor to Voronin who has served out the maximum of two mandates allowed.