CHISINAU Moldova's communist rulers regained control of parliament and the presidential offices from anti-government protesters on Wednesday and blamed NATO member Romania, its neighbour, for stoking the violence.
President Vladimir Voronin accused the opposition -- which favours closer ties with the West -- of attempting a coup in Tuesday's violent protests in the capital of Europe's poorest country.
One woman died and about 100 people were hurt after protesters, who alleged that a weekend parliamentary election won by the communists was rigged, ransacked Voronin's offices and looted parliament.
After riot police re-took the smoking and wrecked buildings early on Wednesday and rounded up 193 opposition protesters, Voronin said he was expelling Romania's ambassador.
Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic, has close ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with the NATO and the European Union member.
"When the flag of Romania was raised on state buildings, the attempts of the opposition to carry out a coup became clear," Voronin was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency.
"We will not allow this."
Russia's RIA news agency quoted Voronin as saying the Romanian ambassador had been declared persona non-grata while Interfax said he accused Romania of involvement in the protests.
The Romanian foreign ministry hit back saying Moldova's accusations amounted to "a provocation". It said it continued to support closer ties for Moldova with the EU.
Voronin won immediate backing from Russia whose foreign ministry issued a statement of support for his action, saying the riots had been aimed at undermining Moldova's sovereignty.
"We all saw under which flags these outrages have been carried out and hope that the European Union will make most serious conclusions," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The United States and the EU urged an end to violence.
In London, Fitch Ratings said Moldova's "B-" credit rating could be threatened if political unrest in the country persisted though the fallout to the rest of the region appeared to be contained for now.
"There's already a fair bit of political risk built into Moldova's "B-" rating but if the unrest is prolonged and severe and impacts the economy, we would expect to take some ratings action," said Edward Parker, Head of Emerging Europe Sovereigns at Fitch Ratings.
Mass street protests against disputed election results in other ex-Soviet states led to power changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, though it was not clear in Moldova's case what grassroots support the protesters had.
CALM IN CENTRE
Central Chisinau was calm on Wednesday. A small crowd of a few hundred protesters stood near the parliament building, which was guarded by riot police. No violence was reported.
But one analyst expected the unrest to continue.
"We would expect the demonstrations to continue for several more days and possibly become more violent. The government is accusing the opposition of orchestrating the demonstrations but in reality they appear more spontaneous, mainly student based," Joanna Gorska, deputy head of Eurasia Forecasting at specialist intelligence company Exclusive Analysis, told Reuters.
Gorska said tensions had been sharpened by the global economic crisis since remittances from Moldovans abroad, on which the economy relies, had dropped sharply.
Moldova is divided between Voronin's pro-independence forces and opposition groups who favour closer EU ties and possible unity with Romania.
GUNS "IF NECESSARY"
The Interior Ministry said that 193 people, including eight minors, had been detained overnight on charges of looting, robbery, hooliganism and affray.
Ministry spokeswoman Ala Meleca said: "The police intend to uphold public order. If necessary, they will use special means, including firearms."
Opposition leaders condemned Tuesday's violence but demanded new elections. Some protesters demanded the resignation of Voronin, who is due to step down because of constitutional term limits but wants to retain power from behind the scenes.
Official election results from Sunday's vote put the Communists in front with close to 50 percent.
Vlad Filat, leader of Moldova's Liberal Democrats, accused the government of going back on an earlier pledge to hold a recount and predicted "some very serious repression".
The worst violence to hit Moldova's capital in decades could complicate efforts to resolve an 18-year-old separatist rebellion in the Russian-speaking region of Transdniestria, where Russia has had troops since Soviet times.
(Additional reporting by Peter Apps in London and Justyna Pawlak in Bucharest)
Trending On Reuters
A Libyan court passed a death sentence in absentia on Muammar Gaddafi's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, for suppressing peaceful protests during the country's 2011 revolution that ended his father's rule. Full Article
Maruti Suzuki June-quarter profit jumps 56 percent; lower costs, higher sales. Full Article
Florida family finds $1 million in treasure from sunken Spanish armada. Full Article