CHISINAU, MOLDOVA - Protesters forced their way into the Moldovan parliament demanding snap elections on Wednesday, after lawmakers appointed the country's third prime minister in less than a year in a bid to end months of political deadlock.
Waving flags and shouting slogans, a dozen protesters scuffled with police in riot gear and accused lawmakers who appointed Pavel Filip, a member of the main pro-European coalition, of being traitors. Police later secured the building and the situation appeared calm, though the head of one of the smaller political parties was injured and TV footage showed blood dripping down his face.
The protests could presage more instability in Europe's poorest country, which has been without a proper government since a no-confidence vote toppled the previous administration in October after a $1 billion banking scandal.
The president had nominated Filip, IT and communications minister in the last government, as a compromise candidate after two earlier candidates were rejected. But protesters see him as part of a discredited establishment.
International credits on hold
Moldova needs a stable government to unlock further funding from overseas lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, that was withheld in the wake of the banking scandal and subsequent political crisis.
Filip faces an economic challenge as well as a political one.
The IMF, in a report on Wednesday, estimated the economy shrank by 1.75 percent last year, although it did forecast a modest recovery in 2016. Drought and a sharp downturn in Russia have added to Moldova's worries.
"The people of Moldova don't need a government that says pleasant things, but a government that solves their problems," Filip said after the vote, which took place while around 3,000 people protested outside parliament.
Calls for more transparency
Moldova's ruling elite has been the target of mass protests over the banking fraud, which saw the equivalent of one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product disappear overseas.
Despite being touted as a compromise figure, opposition lawmakers as well as the protesters resisted Filip's appointment. He has close ties to Vladimir Plahotniuc, one of Moldova's richest but most unpopular men.
Filip's party originally wanted Plahotniuc as their candidate for prime minister, but President Nicolae Timofti refused to nominate him. Opposition lawmakers argued that, under Filip, Plahotniuc would be the real power behind the scenes.
The appointment follows the rise and fall of two prime ministers in the past year. Chiril Gaburici resigned in June following claims he falsified his school diplomas, and his successor, Valeriu Strelet, was ousted in a no-confidence motion in October.
The IMF, which is in talks with Moldova about new funding, has urged a clean-up of the financial sector. Insiders say the $1 billion banking fraud, a steady hemorrhaging of money in unsupported loans over several years, reflects deep-seated corruption in Moldova and involved some degree of complicity from many of those in power.
"Long-standing deficiencies in identifying ultimate beneficial ownership of banks need to be urgently corrected," the IMF said in its report.