Some 4,500 people decrying high prices massed in the capital Chisinau to protest against President Maia Sandu.
Police in Moldova have detained more than 50 people as thousands gathered to protest against pro-European President Maia Sandu.
Some 4,500 protesters, decrying high prices, massed in the capital Chisinau on Sunday, but police in riot gear set up roadblocks with buses to confine them to a district far from government buildings.
Officials said 54 people were detained on public order violations. Several busloads of demonstrators were kept from entering the capital.
The main force behind the protests is opposition politician Ilan Shor, an exiled businessman convicted of fraud in connection with a $1bn bank scandal.
“Why do Moldova’s Western partners support Maia Sandu, yet shut their eyes when people are kept away from the government to express their needs,” Marina Tauber, head of Shor’s party, told the gathering. “Can you see this in any other European country?”
Andrei Spinu, head of Sandu’s administration, denounced Sunday’s rally as “not a protest. This was yet another attempt by Russia to destabilise the situation in Moldova.”
Officials had previously warned of possible organised disorder. Scuffles broke out at the protest in Chisinau as demonstrators gathered in front of parliament and tried to reach the seat of government a few hundred metres away, but police stopped them.
The protest slogan was “We ask the government to pay our bills”.
Participants spoke of the high cost of living and blamed the government and President Sandu for not doing enough to help them or for not listening to their complaints.
People shouted, “Down with the dictatorship” and “Down with Maia Sandu”.
Moldovan police chief Viorel Cernauteanu earlier told reporters that officers had staged a series of raids and detained seven people on suspicion of trying to cause serious disruption at demonstrations.
Sandu was elected by a landslide in 2020 on a pledge to clean up corruption and has since started the long process of applying for European Union membership.
The organisers accused Sandu of trying to drag Moldova into the war in Ukraine.
The rally followed weeks of competing warnings of impending trouble in Moldova, where missiles have repeatedly landed near its border with Ukraine during Russia’s year-long invasion of its neighbour.
Moldova accused Russia last month of plotting to overthrow Sandu, while the United States pledged to support her government against destabilisation.
The White House on Friday accused Russia of seeking to destabilise the Romanian-speaking country of 2.6 million people bordering Ukraine in order to install a pro-Russian government.
The US said it had stepped up information sharing with Moldovan leaders “so they can investigate further” and “thwart Russian plans”.
Moldova, formerly part of Russia’s sphere of influence, is now governed by authorities firmly focused on European integration.
However, Chisinau has to deal with the separatist region of Transnistria, where the authorities called Thursday on the United Nations to investigate a plan — blamed on Kyiv — to attack several top officials.
Ukraine’s SBU security service immediately denounced the allegations as a “provocation orchestrated by the Kremlin”.