CHISINAU - Stronger ties with the European Union and bringing to justice those who abused power, including a controversial tycoon, are top priorities of Moldova's new government.
Prime Minister Maia Sandu made the comments on June 15 after the first meeting of her coalition cabinet. It convened a day after the caretaker government declared defeat, ending a political crisis in one of Europe's poorest countries.
Sandu's government comprises her pro-European ACUM group and the pro-Russia Socialist Party, which joined forces after months of political deadlock that followed an inconclusive parliamentary election in February.
But the former ruling Democratic Party (PDM) claimed the government was formed after a postelection deadline and therefore illegal.
The Democratic Party, however, conceded defeat on June 14. Vladimir Cebotari, vice president of the PDM, said the party was "stepping down to avoid an escalation which could lead to violence."
On June 15, the PDM said its leader, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, had temporarily left Moldova.
Sandu accused Plahotniuc and his associates of crime and corruption.
'The heads of the mafia group that usurped power and terrorized the citizens of Moldova for years have left the country,' she said. 'We want to assure you that...all of those responsible, including Plahotniuc, will be brought back to Moldova and held accountable for all the abuse they participated in.'
In Washington, the U.S. State Department on June 14 welcomed the PDM's decision to withdraw, urging restraint during a transition period and promising that Washington 'remains committed' to supporting 'a more prosperous and democratic future' for Moldova.
One of the poorest countries in Europe, Moldova has been plagued by corruption and political turmoil since it won independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Sandu said improving ties with the EU are her government's priority -- Moldova's accession bid has stalled over the slow pace of reform -- but that Moldova is also open to boosting economic and trade cooperation with Russia.
'The government program states clearly that association with the EU is the basis of our activity,' said Sandu, announcing a visit soon by a delegation from Brussels. 'You are going to see very soon concrete steps, progress in improving our relations with the EU.'
With reporting by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, AP, and AFP
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