Orphans evicted in battle for alphabet

6th August 2004 at 01:00

European leaders have condemned attempts by separatists to close schools that use the Latin alphabet in the breakaway Transdnistria region of Moldova.

In one case militia stormed a school in Ribnitza where teachers and parents were staging a sit-in protest against the closure order.

In Bender, 60 orphan boarders aged 7 to 15 were forced on to the streets after they returned from summer camp to find that police had seized and sealed the school.

"Exploiting children to meet political ends is appalling and the treatment of the orphans in Bender is simply inhumane," said Walter Schwimmer, secretary general of the Council of Europe.

Teachers in Bender took some of the orphans home for the night; others were obliged to sleep on the street before breaking back into the dormitory the next day. Dozens of police are preventing them entering other parts of the school.

About 5,000 children are affected by the attempt to close Latin-script schools. The separatists are demanding that the Moldovan language be taught using Russian Cyrillic script.

Moldovan is almost the same as Romanian, a Latin-based language. But when Moldova was annexed by Stalin from Romania during the Second World War the Soviets enforced a switch to the Cyrillic script.

One of the first reforms instituted in the dying days of the Soviet Union was to bring back the Latin alphabet.

Moldova became an independent state in 1991, but in Transdnistria, a thin strip of territory on the eastern side of the River Dniester, the majority of the population are Slavs. Many of them speak Russian or Ukrainian and want the territory to be part of Russia.

The incidents sparked the Moldovan government to withdraw from talks aimed at resolving the Transdnistrian situation. The government has also announced an embargo on exports from the region.

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