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Moldova Retains Pro-West Leader

President Vladimir Voronin captures substantial support from the opposition, dealing a new blow to Russian influence.

April 05, 2005|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The pro-Western president of Moldova won reelection by Parliament on Monday in a vote marking a fresh setback to Russia's policies in post-Soviet states.

President Vladimir Voronin's solid victory with 75 votes in Moldova's 101-seat legislature consolidates a shift by the country of 4.4 million people toward closer ties with the European Union and the United States. Voronin leads the Communist Party, which holds 56 seats, indicating that he won substantial support from opposition lawmakers as well as his own party.

Building close ties between Europe's poorest country and the rest of the continent is now a "consistent, irreversible and natural process," Voronin told Parliament on Monday, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Moldova's Communists came to power four years ago on a pro-Moscow platform, but under Voronin's leadership the party turned away from Russia, partly because of a bitter dispute over the separatist Trans-Dniester region.

That border territory, a narrow strip of land located east of the Dniester River, has a majority ethnic Russian and Ukrainian population and a breakaway government supported by about 1,200 Russian troops. Moscow views its forces as peacekeepers, but Voronin has demanded their withdrawal.

He renewed that appeal in a speech before Monday's vote, describing the Russian presence in Trans-Dniester as an anachronism. "It is our obligation to make our country the way we want to see it, so that our country will be able to sit at the table of the European Union as an equal in all respects," Voronin told Parliament after the vote.

Moldova's new focus on ties with the West follows political upheavals in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last year that brought to power democratic reformers determined to deepen relations with the U.S. and EU. In the last month, opposition leaders also have come to power in another former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan, through a largely nonviolent popular revolution.

Anatoly Tseranu, an opposition member of Parliament from the centrist Democratic Moldova bloc, applauded Voronin's bid to gravitate toward Europe in a telephone interview from Chisinau, the Moldovan capital.

"As of today, the Communists have turned this country's face toward the West and are trying to do away with Moldova's excessive dependence on Russia," Tseranu said. "For Moldova, it is a good thing because the Russia factor dominated Moldova's foreign and domestic policy agenda for far too many years."

But Tseranu predicted that because of its Communist roots, the party will fall short of reaching its new goals.

"At best, Voronin's team is capable of pushing this country toward Western standards," he said. "But that is far from being the same thing as developing a truly Western democracy."

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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