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Moldova’s ethnic region ready for referendum on secession - regional official

January 16, 2014, 23:00 UTC+3 CHISINAU
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CHISINAU, January 16, /ITAR-TASS/. Central Election Commission of Gagauzia, a region with the status of an “autonomous territorial unit” within the Republic of Moldova, has reported its full readiness for holding a referendum on a possible withdrawal from this country if the latter loses state sovereignty.

The regional polling has been scheduled for February 2.

“The CEC has already passed all the necessary resolutions on the referendum and has endorsed the design and contents of the ballots,” said CEC chairperson Valentina Lisnik. “Also, we have formed the local polling commissions.”

Simultaneously with the legislative referendum, a regional consultative survey /poll/ will be held to find out the opinion of Gagauzia’s residents on whether or not they support the Moldovan authorities’ policies towards integration with the EU or whether they find the joining of the Customs Union currently consisting of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia more preferable.

Gagauzia, which is home to about 160,000 mostly ethnically non-Moldovan people, is located in the very south of Moldova. Its population speaks a dialect of the Turkish language.

Historically, the Gagauzians are descendants of either the Oghuz Turks who converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity or the Bulgarians who underwent linguistic Turkification at a certain point in the past.

The ethnic Gagauzians have been settling in the southern districts of Moldova, or former Bessarabia, since 1812 when the region went over to the Russian Empire. In 1991, when the former Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic declared itself independent from the USSR, Gagauzia and another largely non-Moldovan regions of the country, Transdnistria (or the Dniester region) declared themselves independent from Moldova.

However, contrary to the situation around Transdnistria that grew over into an armed conflict with hundreds of human casualties on both sides, Moldova’s central authorities in Chisinau managed to produce an arrangement that satisfied the local minority’s demand for rights and status to big enough a degree.

Moldova’s incumbent pro-EU Administration opposes the idea of the referendum vehemently. The Office of the country’s Prosecutor General has instituted a criminal case against the organizers of the referendum and a number of Gagauzian legislators have been summoned to investigators for questioning.

The district court in Comrat, the region’s capital has entertained the demands from the central government and has declared the polling illegal. Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has contributed to the efforts to dissuade the Gagauzian leadership from holding the referendum - he proposed to have a visiting session of the cabinet of ministers for a discussion of regional problems, which the region’s population finds particularly troublesome.

In the meantime, popular gatherings of local resident have been held in many populated localities of the region. The participants hailed the referendum and condemned the actions of Moldova’s authorities.

People’s Assembly of Gagauzia is expected to gather for an emergency session Friday, January 17, the press service of the legislature said Thursday. Specifically, it said that the need for holding an emergency session had been prompted “by the state policy of neighboring Romania that is overtly oriented at swallowing up the republic on the background of explicit connivance on the part of top-rank officials and state agencies of Moldova.”

Gagauzian MPs believe that the declarations, which Romanian President Trajan Basescu made at the end of November regarding his country’s prime foreign policy objectives, testify to the far-reaching ambitions of politicians in Bucharest.

Unification with Moldova will become a new fundamental project for Romania, President Basescu said on a program of Romanian national television November 27.

“Romania’s first fundamental state project was getting NATO’s membership,” he said. “Project number two was accession to the EU, and now unification with Moldova should become a doubtless project number three.”

Romania and Moldova are very closely ethnically related and speak practically the same language. The territory of today’s Moldova lying westwards of the right-hand bank of the river Dniester belonged to Romania between the two World Wars.

“A people seeking to live together will never surrender,” Basescu said. “I don’t mean politicians here. All my actions related to Moldova have been linked to the idea of a possible reunification. I know this isn’t the right moment now but this will happen anyway.”

His words triggered sharp criticism both in Romania and across border in Moldova.

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