Reuters International

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Around 1,000 demonstrators scuffled with Moldovan riot police on Sunday in long-running anti-government protests and threatened to storm buildings owned by a prominent businessman in central Chisinau.

Since last September thousands have regularly turned out to protest at the disappearance of $1 billion from banks, which has led to widespread disenchantment with the ex-Soviet state's political and business leaders.

Insiders say the banking fraud, a steady haemorrhaging abroad of the equivalent of one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product in unsupported loans over several years, reflects deep-seated corruption.

The appointment of a new prime minister in January with close ties to Vladimir Plahotniuc, one of Moldova's richest men, has angered opposition lawmakers and citizens, who want a snap parliamentary election.

Hundreds of police carrying batons and protective shields formed a barrier between Plahotniuc's house and the crowd, who were shouting "Down with the mafia" and "Power to the people, not to the oligarchs".

A similar stand-off was taking place nearby, with crowds throwing stones, sticks, eggs and bottles at police who were protecting a business centre owned by Plahotniuc.

The demonstration was an offshoot of a larger protest, where 7,000 gathered around government buildings earlier on Sunday.

One of the leaders of the protest, Inga Grigoriu, called on demonstrators to rally again on Monday morning with the aim of disrupting the government's work.

"I ask you all to come tomorrow at seven to block the government building and not allow officials inside," she told the crowds.

A decision in March to allow the next president to be chosen in national elections rather than a vote in parliament failed to appease protesters.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Ros Russell)

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