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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethnic Russians Protest NATO in Moldova

CHISINAU, Moldova -- About 100 ethnic Russians rallied Friday in the former Soviet republic of Moldova to protest an international disaster relief exercise held in cooperation with NATO.

Demonstrators carried banners reading "NATO, out of Moldova!" Some waved the flag of the former Soviet Union.

"We are peaceful people and we don't want NATO boots to step on the peaceful land of Moldova," said Valery Klimenko, the leader of the Congress of the Russian Communities.

The exercise, called Medceur-2007, is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Partnership for Peace program, which offers assistance to nonmember countries. It began July 28 and is scheduled to end Aug. 11.

Fourteen countries are taking part in the exercise, which is financed by the United States. It simulates natural catastrophes and humanitarian missions so that those involved can rehearse.

Moldova joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994. It did not apply to join NATO.

About three-quarters of Moldovans are ethnic Romanians. Some members of the Russian minority, which makes up 5.8 percent of the population, fear Moldova could join NATO, following the path of its western neighbor, Romania, which joined in 2004.