Moldova’s Constitutional Court on Sunday agreed to stage a recount of last week’s election after thousands of people took to the streets to protest against alleged police brutality.

President Vladimir Voronin asked the court to consider a recount on the grounds that it could re-establish calm after the ransacking of Moldova’s parliament last week following claims that parliamentary elections were rigged in favour of the Communists.

Some 5,000 protesters gathered in Chisinau’s main square on Sunday, summoned by the strains of pop music that all but drowned out a choir singing to the Palm Sunday procession in front of the capital’s Orthodox cathedral.

Iurie Leanca, a former minister from the Liberal Democrat party, one of three opposition parties that contests the results of last Sunday’s elections, said: “The aim is to focus on the civil rights violations. Young people have been beaten in police stations …Some parents still can’t find out where their children are.”

It emerged on Sunday that one protester had died in police custody. The interior ministry denied opposition claims that the man had been beaten and blamed the death on gas used for crowd control.

“The more they beat us, the stronger we become,” said Vlad Filat, Liberal Democrat chairman. “The more they violate our human rights, the stronger is our will to fight.”

The government says 252 people have been taken into custody since Tuesday, and 121 have been placed under house arrest. Charges have been filed against 286, while 17 minors were cautioned.

Ala Meleca, interior ministry spokesman, said claims of police brutality had not been investigated, since none had taken place.

A senior official in the prime minister’s office attacked the European Union’s “passivity” in the face of last week’s rioting.

“If Moldova turns into Belarus, it will be the EU’s fault,” the official told the Financial Times, drawing a parallel with the authoritarian former Soviet state that enjoys close relations with Moscow. The official also criticised the conciliatory tone of Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who last week labelled the storming of parliament “unacceptable” while stressing the importance of the right to peaceful protest.

Foreign observers signed off on the elections, in which the ruling Communist party won 49 per cent of the vote, but the opposition claims biased media coverage, ballot stuffing and travel restrictions skewed the outcome.

Peaceful protests turned violent last Tuesday, culminating in the storming of the parliament and presidency buildings in central Chisinau.

Communist party officials accuse the opposition of fomenting unrest with the aid of neighbouring country Romania.

Additional reporting by agencies in Chisinau

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