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Anger over 'fraud of the century' in Moldova

Protesters have pitched around 100 tents in the capital Chisinau, demanding the resignation of the president and snap elections. The scandal over $1 billion missing from state banks has sparked a political crisis.

Moldawien Chisinau Proteste Zeltstadt

Protesters who camped overnight in Chisinau vowed Monday to press the round-the-clock action against what they see as widespread corruption and force the resignation of the country's leadership.

The protests in Europe's poorest country of 3.5 million people were triggered by an unprecedented scam that saw $1 billion (900 million euros) -- roughly 10 percent of Moldova's GDP -- was stolen from a trio of banks.

"We have a duty to take back our country which the oligarchs and bandits have seized from us," Elena Cebanu, a 26-year-old nurse who spent the night in the tent city, told the AFP news agency.

The fraud, uncovered early this year, has triggered the devaluation of the national currency, stoking inflation and driving down standards of living in a country where many families struggle to survive on around $300 a month.

Weekend drew record numbers

Moldawien Chisinau Proteste Massendemonstration

About 15,000 People rallied at the Big Square of the National Assembly, in Chisinau, Moldova on Sunday, September 6, 2015.

Tens of thousands of protesters

gathered in Chisinau's central square Sunday

, demanding that Timofti and numerous government officials step down over the missing funds. Digging in for the long haul, protesters are demanding the resignation of key leaders including President Nicolae Tomofti and early elections.

"Our protest action will go on non-stop. People will go from here only when our demands are met," Valentin Dolganiuc, a leader of the civic platform Dignity and Justice (DA) which organized the protest, told the Reuters news agency.

Moldova, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, signed an association agreement last year, drawing it closer to European Union (EU) membership despite opposition from Russia.

But protesters accuse the country's leaders of paying lip service to Western integration while using positions of power to enrich themselves.

The missing $1 billion debacle has led the EU and other economic partners to withhold funds to Moldova until it secures assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

jar/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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