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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Moldovans mass against leaders
Moldovans protest in the capital Chisinau
Protesters fear a realignment with Russia
Tens of thousands of Moldovans protested on Sunday against the ruling communists and demanded greater efforts to find a leading opposition deputy.

Demonstrators were angry at what they saw as government attempts to drag Moldova back into the sphere of its imperial master, Russia.

They were also concerned about Vlad Cubreacov, a leading member of the Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD) and the driving force behind earlier rallies, who has disappeared.

Vlad Cubreacov
Mr Cubreacov's disappearance has given new life to the protests
Protesters have taken to the streets in Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, almost every day since January when the government announced plans for children to learn Russian.

The demonstrations dwindled after the government abandoned the plan. But the disappearance of Mr Cubreacov has increased tensions between the nationalist opposition and the ruling communists.

A resolution initiated on Sunday by Iurie Rosca, leader of the nationalist party, said: "We demand that the parliament hold an emergency session within next 48 hours and pass a law on parties, banning fascist, Nazi and communist parties."

Addressing a crowd in the central square of the capital, Chisinau, Mr Rosca said: "We came here to win. We will stay on this square until the communists resign."

His resolution also accused the communists of having "usurped power, introduced media censorship, wrested control of the judiciary and violated human rights".

'Smear campaign'

The opposition party said around 80,000 people had attended the demonstration. Police put the figure at 40,000.

President Vladimir Voronin says the nationalists are waging a smear campaign against his party.

I came here because I do not want to go back into the Soviet slammer

Protester Ion Rosca

Opponents have said Mr Cubreacov's disappearance earlier this month was "an act of political repression".

Police have failed to find any trace of Mr Cubreacov, who vanished after a driver dropped him off outside his home.

The communists, elected in February 2001 on promises to fight poverty, are also facing growing discontent over their failure to improve living standards.

Moldovans also dislike the government's leaning towards Russia rather than Moldova's other neighbour Romania which is seen as the gateway to Europe.

"I came here because I do not want to go back into the Soviet slammer, and I don't want Moldova to be left out of Europe," said one protester, 60-year-old Ion Rosca.

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