President calls on Moldovans to shun Russian ribbon on May 9

FILE PHOTO: Moldovan President Maia Sandu attends a meeting between leaders of EU countries and the governments of the "Eastern Partnership", a group of six neighbouring states which includes Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, during the European Summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium, December 15, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova's president called on Tuesday for people and opposition politicians to refrain from using Russian symbols during May 9 celebrations to mark victory in World War Two because Russian troops were killing civilians in Ukraine.

"It is impossible to combine in the same symbol the memory of lives given for peace and the current inhumane war," President Maia Sandu told a briefing.

In 2020, the pro-Western Sandu won election against her pro-Russian predecessor Igor Dodon, but his allies still hold influence in the former Soviet republic.

Dodon has urged people to "go on the Victory March with a St. George ribbons" despite possible fines, referring to the black and orange striped ribbon which has become a military symbol of Russian patriotism.

Last week, Moldova's parliament voted to outlaw the ribbon of St. George in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Under the new law, anyone who makes, wears or displays the striped ribbon faces a fine of at least 900 lei ($49) or 69 hours of community service.

Sandu urged her political opponents – communist and socialist parties - not to divide society for the sake of their political interests.

"Moldova...defends its neutrality - and peace in society. That is why the symbols of the war waged against Ukraine are prohibited in the Republic of Moldova. I urge politicians to refrain from any provocation," Sandu said.

Russia has repeatedly denied its troops have targeted civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 to carry out what it calls a "special military operation".

The West and Russia vie for influence Moldova, a country of 3.5 million people, which depends on Russian energy and part of which has been controlled by Russia-backed separatists for more than three decades.

Last month Sandu signed a formal application for Moldova to join the European Union, hastening its planned pro-Western course after the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

Lithuania's parliament on Tuesday also voted to ban public displays of St. George ribbon, the letter "Z", and other symbols seen as expressing support for the Russian invasion.

The ribbon of St George, first introduced as an honour by Catherine the Great, has gained significance in the Russian-speaking world since separatists in eastern Ukraine adopted it as a symbol of their support for Russia in 2014.

Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are prominently marked with the letter "Z", and it has started appearing on social media and on clothing elsewhere in support of the war.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, writing by Natalia Zinets, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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