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Loyalist of Moldovan Leader Nominated as Successor

Moldova's outgoing president, Vladimir Voronin, moved closer to consolidating his grip on power on Wednesday after his Communist party nominated a loyal follower to replace him.

Voronin, in power since 2001 and unable to stand for a third consecutive term as president, has long said he aimed to stay in control by taking on a senior post, despite violent protests against the Communists last month.

The Communists announced a minor reshuffle in the past two days -- they named Voronin as their candidate for speaker of parliament, Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii for the post of president, and Parliament Speaker Marian Lupu as prime minister.

"The nomination of Greceanii for the post of president is completely in line with Voronin's scenario of keeping hold of power," said Veaceslav Ionita, analyst at the IDIS Viitorul think tank. "She is 100 percent loyal, obedient, controllable."

Voronin's Communists won last month's parliamentary election, gaining 60 of 101 seats in the assembly. But parliament elects the president in ex-Soviet Moldova and the Communists need 61 votes to secure victory for Greceanii.

Three opposition parties, generally more liberal and pro-Western in outlook, have vowed to block the Communists' nomination for president in the vote on May 20.

If the chamber fails to endorse a president in two votes, it must be dissolved and a new parliamentary election called.

The opposition distanced itself from protesters who looted the presidential and parliamentary buildings after the April 5 election, but maintained that the poll was fraudulent.

Analyst Ionita said these parties were likely to dig their heels in after Greceanii's widely expected nomination, precisely because she is seen to be so compliant.

"It will be even harder for the Communists to find the one vote they lack. And I'm not sure they will find it. It is clear that they are also getting ready for the option of a snap election," Ionita said.

Voronin has overseen eight years of stability and economic growth in the tiny country wedged between Ukraine and EU-member Romania, with which Moldovans share a historic and linguistic heritage.

But he has been unable to solve the "frozen conflict" of Transdniestria, a sliver of land in the east that is Russian speaking and broke away from Moldova in 1990.

As president, Voronin was initially close to Russia, but turned away from it for a time before restoring close ties and praising Kremlin attempts to negotiate an end to the separatist rebellion. Reuters



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