CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldova's Parliament elected a judge with a European outlook as president Friday, ending nearly three years of political deadlock in the former Soviet republic.
Lawmakers approved the election of Nicolae Timofti, 65, who is chairman of the Superior Council of Magistrates. The opposition Communists, who disapprove of the government's pro-European policies, boycotted the vote.
Thousands of their supporters later protested the election in the capital's streets. But Communist leader and former President Vladimir Voronin later said his party has decided to suspend its protests, even though it opposes Timofti's election.
Moldova had been without a president since 2009 because the country's largest party, which has 58 seats in the 101-seat legislature, could not muster the 61 votes required.
On Friday, Timofti — who favors Moldova joining the EU and democratic and free-market economic reforms — was elected with 62 votes, including four by independent lawmakers.
"The European orientation of Moldova must be a priority," Timofti told lawmakers ahead of the vote. "This has been the policy of Moldova in recent years and this is the policy that must continue."
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest nations, is struggling to find a solution regarding the separatist region of Trans-Dniester, which broke away in 1990 over fears that Moldova planned to reunite with Romania. Trans-Dniester's leaders are pro-Russian, but the area is not recognized internationally.
The Council of Europe, the pan-European body for human rights, welcomed Timofti's victory and urged all political parties to work together.
"I am convinced ... all the political parties will show responsibility by accepting the democratic legitimacy of the country's institutions and hence the legitimacy of a president elected in accordance with its constitutional requirements," Jean-Claude Mignon, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said in a statement.
Romanian President Traian Basescu called Timofti to congratulate him, Basescu's office said. Some four-fifths of Moldovans are of Romanian descent and the country was part of Romania until 1940.
In Russia, members of the nation's lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, also welcomed Moldova's election. "Moldova today has finally officially ended a long-term government crisis," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted State Duma member Leonid Slutsky as saying.
Associated Press Writer Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed.