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Moldova bars fans from football match amid coup worries

February 14, 2023

An international soccer match in Moldova will be played in an empty stadium amid concerns over an alleged Russian plot to overthrow the government.

FC Sheriff players pose for a group photo
FC Sheriff is based in the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, but has to play its international matches in ChisinauImage: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL/picture alliance

Moldova has banned fans from attending a football match against a Serbian team, the country's football authority said on Tuesday, a day after the Moldovan president warned that saboteurs from Serbia could be part of an alleged Kremlin plot to overthrow the government.

The Moldovan Football Federation said it was "informed by the authorities of the Republic of Moldova about the impossibility" of allowing fans to attend a February 16 match in Chisinau between FC Sheriff of Tiraspol and FK Partizan of Belgrade.

UEFA required FC Sheriff to play home games away from Tiraspol, which is about 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the Ukrainian city of Odesa.

The federation said in a statement it would allow fans to receive refunds on tickets purchased, but did not give an explanation for the move. "We apologize to football fans for the inconvenience caused," it said.

Karte Republik Moldau EN

Moldova fears coup

The football federation's decision comes a day after Moldova's President Maia Sandu described an alleged Russian conspiracy against her country's government using external saboteurs from Montenegro, Belarus and Serbia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that Kyiv had "intercepted the plan for the destruction of Moldova by Russian intelligence."

Russia's plan aims to derail country's bid to join the European Union and to use its strategic location bordering Ukraine in the war there, Sandu said. Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people neighboring Romania and Ukraine, received EU candidate status in the summer of 2022.

Sandu has repeatedly expressed concern about Moscow's intentions towards the former Soviet republic and about the presence of Russian troops in the breakaway Trans-Dniester region, where FC Sheriff is based.

EU grants Ukraine, Moldova candidate status

Russia denies accusations

Meanwhile, Russia denied "completely unfounded" accusations from Moldova that Moscow was plotting to violently overthrow the country's pro-European leadership with the help of saboteurs.

"Such claims are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

It also accused Kyiv of seeking to pit Moldova against Russia and accused Moldovan authorities of Russophobia.

dh/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters)