Moldova bars fans from soccer match with Serbia amid Russia coup plot concerns

Moldova's President Sandu is seen during a visit to the Ukrainian town of Bucha
Moldovan President Maia Sandu visits the Ukrainian town of Bucha, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

CHISINAU, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Moldova has barred fans from attending a soccer match against a Serbian team, officials announced on Tuesday, a day after the Moldovan president said saboteurs from Serbia could be part of an alleged Kremlin coup plot.

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

The federation said it would allow fans to receive refunds but did not give an explanation for the move.

"We apologise to football fans for the inconvenience caused," it said in a statement.

President Maia Sandu on Monday accused Russia of planning a coup to overthrow the Moldovan government with help from citizens of Montenegro, Belarus and Serbia. She said Moscow aimed to derail Moldova's bid to join the European Union and to use its strategic location bordering Ukraine in the war.

Montegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic on Tuesday said he knew nothing about the possible involvement of the country's citizens in a coup attempt and would try to reach out to Chisinau to seek more details.

"If there are irresponsible individuals, they probably exist in our country and in some other spheres, but somehow what I read sounded a little harsh to me. It gave the impression that the state of Montenegro is participating in these problems which probably also exist in Moldova," Abazovic told reporters.

"If we can help in any way, we are here."

Moldovan border police said on Monday that 12 Serbians were denied entry to the country, although none were detained.

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

Russia denied last year wanting to intervene in Moldova after authorities in Transdniestria said they had been targeted by a series of attacks.

Tuesday's announcement coincided with the brief closure of Moldovan airspace after a small object resembling a weather balloon was spotted. Civil aviation authorities said in a statement they had lifted the restrictions after determining there was no threat to safety.

Reporting by Alexander Tanas in Chisinau and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Writing by Dan Peleschuk and David Ljunggren; Editing by Caitlin Webber and David Holmes

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