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Moldovan president says Russia is 'buying' voters, seeks backing for pro-Europe policies

FILE PHOTO: Moldovan President Maia Sandu speaks at the USAID "Democracy Delivers" event at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, in New York City

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova's pro-European president, Maia Sandu, accused Russia on Wednesday of "buying" voters in this weekend's local elections by funnelling money to pro-Moscow political parties.

Sandu, who has denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine and accused Russia of trying to oust her in a coup, said Moscow had channelled the equivalent of nearly $5 million in two months in financing for "criminal groups". These include a banned party led by fugitive businessman Ilan Shor.

She urged voters to back her allies at the ballot box on Sunday to demonstrate support of her vision of Moldova moving to the European mainstream and joining the European Union.

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"Russia previously bought those people who were running Moldova," Sandu said in an interview with Jurnal TV, referring to corruption scandals in the ex-Soviet state before her 2020 landslide election.

"It no longer has that possibility. Now it is buying Moldovan citizens. The Kremlin uses various categories of people ... There are people who work for the Kremlin and they are going to Moscow to fetch money," she said.

Sandu called on law enforcement bodies to take action to punish those responsible.

Russian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Sandu's allegations.

Moldovans vote on Sunday in elections seen as a barometer of Sandu's pro-European drive. A open-air rally tens of thousands strong in Chisinau backed her policies in May, but support is less certain in smaller cities and rural areas.

"It is important for everyone to get out and vote for those candidates who will pursue Moldova's pro-European policies and not create obstacles along this path," Sandu said.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries lying between Ukraine and EU member Romania, has blocked access to major Russian news sites in the run-up to the election.

Moscow has denounced the move as a bid to deny Moldovans access to alternative views and accused the president of whipping up anti-Russian feeling.

Shor, jailed in absentia earlier this year for his role in a $1 billion corruption scandal, mocks Sandu's pro-European campaign and has organised demonstrations from exile in Israel calling for the dismissal of her government.

His party has been declared illegal by Moldova's Constitutional Court and several of its candidates barred from running.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Editing by Ron Popeski and Grant McCool)