Saturday, April 25, 2009

Romania criticises Brussels for 'business as usual' on Moldova

By Stefan Wagstyl in London and Thomas Escritt in,Chisinau

Published: April 24 2009 03:00 | Last updated: April 24 2009 03:00

Romania yesterday criticised the European Union's policy towards Moldova, calling for a tougher line on human rights abuses arising from the crisis-hit country's recent political turmoil.

Cristian Diaconescu, foreign minister, said there should be no talk of "business as usual" with Moldova while it was infringing EU values and so "practically breaking" the terms of its EU co-operation agreements.

Mr Diaconescu's comments, amounting to a rare public rebuke for Brussels from an EU capital, highlight the importance of the Moldovan issue in Romania, which, before the second world war, incorporated most of Moldova.

Mr Diaconescu was speaking the day before Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, was due to visit Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, to urge President Vladimir Voronin, the veteran Communist, and opposition party leader, to start conciliation talks after the violent demonstrations that followed a disputed parliamentary election this month.

Protesters took to the streets after the ruling Communist party claimed a landslide victory in polls deemed fair by international observers. The authorities came under domestic and inter-national criticism after 600 demonstrators were ar-rested. Three young people died in police custody and two others are missing.

Mr Solana is expected to echo Mirek Topolánek, prime minister of the Czech Republic which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, who was in Chisinau this week and criticised Moldova's leaders for failing to engage in dialogue.

But, Mr Topolánek did not threaten Chisinau with any sanctions - such as questioning Moldova's place in the EU's Eastern Partnership, its flagship policy for its eastern border region, to be launched next month. Nor is Mr Solana expected to make threats. Kalman Mizsei, the EU special representative for Moldova, said: "We are working towards progress. There is no Plan B."

Mr Diaconescu made clear Bucharest was unsatisfied with this approach. "I don't think there's a reason to discuss anything else before we . . . clarify for ourselves where a country that is neighbouring the EU is going to. We have three youngsters being killed in police arrest. This is the main topic for the time being."

Speaking to journalists in London, he added: "It is in our opinion impossible now to say, 'OK, it's business as usual - nothing happened, everything is prudent, everything is calm.' "

Mr Diaconescu also urged the EU to condemn a travel ban imposed during the crisis on Romanians by Moldova, which has accused Romanians of stirring up trouble. This ethnically discriminatory rule contradicted EU principles, he said.

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