By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Tuesday backed giving more powers to law enforcement to crack down on street protests, which she said were destabilising the country and aimed at installing a pro-Russian leadership.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets and set up tents outside parliament and Sandu’s residence in recent weeks, demanding the resignation of Sandu’s pro-Western government and voicing their anger over rising prices.
Sandu asked government to amend legislation to give more powers to law enforcement agencies but did not specify what those powers would be.
“Betrayal of the motherland will be severely punished. Those who sow panic and want war will be punished according to the law,” Sandu said.
She said the protesters “promise Moscow to establish a government that will be loyal to Russia”.
Sandu defeated her Russian-backed rival to win the 2020 presidential election in Moldova, which borders Romania and Ukraine, and has pursued pro-Western policies, including pushing for membership of the European Union, that have put her at odds with Moscow.
She has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies in a rumbling dispute over energy payments.
Sandu’s critics say she should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, Moldova’s main supplier.
“We are doing everything to maintain peace and stability in our country,” Sandu said. “But the pressure on us is growing daily. There are more and more attempts to destabilize the situation and divide us.”
Russia has stationed peacekeeping troops in Transdniestria since the early 1990s, when an armed conflict saw pro-Russian separatists wrest most of the region from Moldovan control.
(Writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)