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Moldova's Pro-Russian Candidate Claims Presidency in Runoff

Socialist Party presidential candidate Igor Dodon speaks to the media after voting ended in the presidential elections, in Chisinau, Moldova, Nov. 13, 2016.

Moldova's pro-Russian presidential candidate Igor Dodon has declared victory in Sunday's presidential runoff.

With nearly all the votes counted in the former Soviet republic, Dodon, who campaigned on promises to restore closer ties with Russia, earned about 55 percent of the vote, well ahead of pro-European rival Maya Sandu.

Final results are expected Monday in the impoverished country of 3.5 million.

Speaking to reporters at a late night news conference Sunday, Dodon recognized the strong campaigning of his rival and Dodon said he will be “a president of the whole state.”

“Today we can do everything to avoid division in the society. I'll be a president to all Moldavians and for those who vote for you. I will listen to those who voted against me, because since today I'm a president of the whole state," said Dodon.

Pro-Moscow Dodon came close to winning the presidency outright in the first round of voting two weeks ago.

He has pledged to foster good relations with Moldova's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine. Such appeasement gestures, however, may face stiff resistance in Kyiv by many who object to Dodon's support for Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

For her part, Sandu, a former education minister, used her campaign to urge closer ties with Europe. She also called for the withdrawal of several thousand Russian troops from Moldova's Russian-speaking separatist region of Trans-Dniester.

Dodon's victory comes alongside that of nearby Bulgaria's pro-Russian presidential candidate Gen. Rumen Radev, a political novice whose win Sunday prompted center-right Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to announce his resignation.

Moldova, like Bulgaria, has in recent years been plagued with rampant official corruption.

Former prime minister Vlad Filat was sentenced earlier this year to a nine-year prison term after a court found him guilty of corruption and abuse of power during his 2009-2013 term as head of government. His pro-European ruling coalition had been linked to the country's most powerful oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc, who has long been accused of running the country through bribes and intimidation.

Filat was arrested last year during a parliamentary session and later charged for his links to a bank-fraud scheme that included the disappearance from three banks of $1 billion - nearly 13 percent of the tiny country's annual GDP.

Filat's successor later lost a parliamentary vote of confidence.