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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Lurches Toward Crisis

CHISINAU, Moldova -- One year on, the vodka toasts may fall a little flat, the congratulations ring a touch hollow.

Swept into office in a landslide election victory in Moldova a year ago, the first Communists to regain power in the former Soviet republic have little to celebrate and much to worry over.

Europe's poorest country is buckling under its debt burden, leading reformist ministers have quit, tens of thousands of young Moldovans are marching in daily anti-Communist rallies in the capital, Chisinau, and the rebel Russian-speaking Transdnestr province keeps nipping at the government's heels.

Analysts are skeptical that President Vladimir Voronin, who recently gloomily concluded he had taken over not the reins "but the ruins of power" in a country shattered by 10 years of failed post-Soviet reform, will be able to halt Moldova's spiral dive.

"It's clear that the political confrontation will grow. Add a likely debt default and the financial crisis and we have a highly explosive cocktail," said Viktor Zhosu, an independent political analyst.

Moldova, a small, mainly agricultural land of 4 million sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, has seen thousands take to the streets this year to protest against the government.

Initially, demonstrators were angered by plans to force children and students to learn Russian as a second language and for a new history course opponents say would deny Moldova's cultural links to neighboring Romania, whose language it shares and from which it was excised by Moscow during World War II.

Fearing Russification and a drift back into the Kremlin's orbit, schoolchildren and students have boycotted lessons, joining nationalists to urge the government to back off.

But the protests have since swollen, drawing in up to 20,000 people every day. They have become more vocal and more ambitious -- calling on workers to strike and the government to resign.

On Thursday, some 30,000 people marched around parliament, shouting "Resign, resign!" and "Down with Communism!"

But a government spokesman denied reports later in the day of a ministerial climbdown in the face of the demonstrations.

The nationalist Christian Democratic People's party, the driving force behind the protests, has promised a mammoth 50,000-strong turnout on Sunday -- almost a year to the day since the Communists took power.

A violent confrontation appears unlikely. Voronin, a moderate, educated leader, has pledged not to break up the protests by force, although ministers point out they are illegal.

Analysts question whether the protests alone will be enough to bring down the government, which despite the confrontation still enjoys high ratings among voters and holds 70 seats in Moldova's 101-member parliament. The nationalists have 11 seats.

But the government's Achilles' heel, analysts say, is whether the Communists can make good on their ambitious and vote-pulling election promises of a year ago to restore living standards and drag the country out of its financial mire.