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Moldova, Facing Violent Protests, Agrees to Vote Recount

Facing student-led demonstrations, the Moldovan government has agreed to recount parliamentary election returns that gave the victory in Sunday's vote to the Communist Party.

The decision was made late Tuesday after the anti-communist demonstrators stormed the parliament building and the offices of President Vladimir Voronin to protest alleged election fraud. Moldovan television reports that the violence in the capital, Chisinau, has claimed at least one life and injured more than 20 people.

Shouting "Down with the Communists" and "Freedom, Freedom," a mainly young crowd of protesters carrying European Union, Moldovan and Romanian flags, broke through several police lines around the parliament building.

Television footage showed several protesters throwing stones at apparently outnumbered police behind riot shields, as they tried to hold their positions.

Police fired water cannons at the protesters, but were unable to stop them from breaking into the parliament building and an adjacent presidential office.

Demonstrators smashed windows and broke through a side entrance to the parliament, throwing computers out of windows and setting furniture on fire. Moldovan state television said one young woman died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the parliament building.

At least 10,000 people were reported to have demonstrated against the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary elections, which they claim were rigged by the Communist Party.

But Western election observers noted in their preliminary findings that the elections met international standards, although they agreed that further improvements in the electoral process are needed.

Authorities had agreed to recount the ballots, which now put the Communists in front with close to 50 percent of the vote.

An activist, identified by Russia Today television as Larisa Manole of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, contests Sunday's election results, but condemns the violence.

"We decided to protest against the results of the election. It is impossible that every second person in Moldova voted for the Communists. However, we believe that riots were a provocation. Leaders of all opposition parties are at the scene," she said.

Outgoing Communist Party President Vladimir Voronin, whose party has been in power since 2001, said in a statement that the protest had been planned in advance, but he did not say by whom. He added that "a true patriot cannot commit such acts of vandalism."

The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged all sides to "refrain from violence and provocation." He also stressed the importance of the "right of assembly of peaceful demonstrators" at a time when Moldova is one of six former Soviet states with which the European Union is about to launch a new program to enhance ties.