Friday, April 17, 2009

Romania offers citizenship to 1m Moldovans

The Financial Times

By Thomas Escritt in Chisinau

Published: April 15 2009 

The president of Romania has offered fast-track citizenship to up to 1m Moldovans, saying Bucharest could not stand idly by as an “iron curtain” descended on its eastern border.The move, which would effectively give EU citizenship to almost a quarter of the population of Europe’s poorest state, comes amid rising tension over contested elections in Moldova this month.

Thursday sees the result of a recount that could hand outright victory to the ruling Communist party of Vladimir Voronin, a former Soviet general.

On Wednesday night Natalia Morari, the Russian journalist who used social networking sites and text messages to organise protests against the election result, was sentenced to 10 days’ house arrest.

“I have asked the government as a matter of urgency to change the citizenship law so we can facilitate and speed up the process of regaining citizenship for those Romanians and their families who lost it abusively,” Traian Basescu, Romania’s president, told parliament.

Romania’s move would give citizenship to anyone who has at least one grandparent who was once a Romanian national.

Moldova is divided between speakers of Slavic languages, many of them marooned after the fall of the Soviet Union, and speakers of Moldovan, a variant of Romanian, who tend to support the opposition. “We cannot accept that the Romanians across the Prut river are isolated from the rest of Europe,” Mr Basescu said.

Tensions have been mounting in the nation of 4.4m since elections on April 5 handed victory to the Communists, leaving them one seat short of the 61 needed to appoint a new president.

Three opposition parties say the election was rigged by padding out the electoral roll with the names of the dead and long-term émigrés.

The opposition fears the recount may favour the Communists, who are just 200 votes short of an outright victory. They are demanding to continue the electoral roll vetting process, which was suspended by a court decision on Wednesday night.

One western diplomat said there was evidence of multiple and fraudulent voting in two counties.

Vlad Filat, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, criticised what Moldovans see as EU passivity in the face of human rights violations on its border. “We understand . . . they have to engage with Voronin, but the serious human rights abuses . . . are more urgent,” he told the Financial Times.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested since peaceful protests spiralled into violence last week.

EU officials are understood to worry that a harder line might drive Moldova, which is heading towards bankruptcy and may need foreign aid this year, into the arms of Russia.

Mr Voronin, who is standing down after his second four-year presidential term, had close relations with Moscow until a split over the future of the breakaway province of Transdnistria. Opposition parties say his subsequent enthusiasm for European integration has been a rhetorical ploy.

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