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Thousands protest in Moldova after PM hastily sworn in at midnight

CHISINAU (Reuters) - At least 8,000 people protested in the Moldovan capital on Thursday against the appointment of Prime Minister Pavel Filip, whose hasty swearing-in ceremony at midnight also prompted a government spokesman to resign.

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Parliament appointed Filip in hopes of ending months of political stalemate after the previous government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in October.

But the move has caused a backlash from opposition lawmakers and prompted a series of protests from citizens unhappy with Filip’s close ties to a prominent oligarch. There is widespread anger at Moldova’s ruling elites after a $1 billion (708.67 million pounds) banking fraud plunged the country into crisis last year.

The repeated protests threaten to derail Filip’s chances of running a stable government, at a time when Moldova sees its economy sinking and is trying to negotiate new funding from overseas lenders, including the International Monetary Fund.

“I don’t see the advantages of Filip’s government and there are lots of minuses. He was approved without any public support,” said analyst Nicolai Tveatkov. “(The government) is temporary and one cannot speak of achieving political stability.”

A small of group of demonstrators broke into the parliament building on Wednesday demanding new elections, clashing with riot police. Underscoring the sense of chaos, the spokesman of President Nicolae Timofti later resigned.

“I told the president about my resignation as a result of an extraordinary occurrence, which personally related to myself and is regrettable,” spokesman Vlad Turcanu told reporters.

“I told journalists that the swearing-in ceremony of Filip’s government had been postponed to Thursday. That was the official position of the president up until 2200 on Wednesday ... After that, closer to midnight the decision was taken to carry out the swearing-in ceremony,” he said on Thursday.

Opposition lawmaker Bogdan Tirdea was similarly scathing.

“The government must take responsibility for the night-time swearing-in, which was carried out secretly from the public,” he told Reuters. “This cabinet is illegitimate.”

Moldova’s ruling class was targeted in mass protests over the banking fraud, which saw the equivalent of one-eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic product disappear overseas.

The protesters say Filip is part of the problem. He has close ties to Vladimir Plahotniuc, one of Moldova’s richest men, who was a focus of the protests.

“Plahotniuc, don’t forget that your home is in prison” the protesters shouted on Thursday.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Tom Heneghan