A Moldovan court has temporarily relieved President Igor Dodon of his duties to allow a stand-in to call a snap election, deepening a stand-off between rival political parties over the formation of a new government after months of deadlock.
Dodon's replacement, former prime minister Pavel Filip, immediately announced a snap election for September, while thousands of supporters of Filip's party rallied in the capital, Chisinau.
The crisis threatens more instability in one of Europe's smallest and poorest nations of 3.5 million people, where entrenched corruption and low living standards have pushed many citizens to emigrate to Russia or wealthier European countries.
Dodon's Russian-backed Socialist party had on Saturday announced it was forming a coalition government with the pro-European Union ACUM bloc, an unlikely alliance designed to keep a party run by tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc out of power.
Plahotniuc's Democratic Party of Moldova said the new administration had tried to usurp power at Russia's behest, criticising Dodon's refusal to dissolve parliament after parties missed a court-mandated June 7 deadline to form a government.
More than 10,000 of Plahotniuc and Filip's party supporters held a protest, calling Dodon a "traitor" and demanding his resignation.
Dodon said the court was not politically independent and accused the Democrats of trying to cling to power. He called on the international community to step in.
"Moldovan citizens with different views on domestic and foreign policy can unite for the sake of a common goal: liberation of the Republic of Moldova from the criminal, dictatorial regime," Dodon said in a statement.
"We have no choice but to appeal to the international community to mediate in the process of a peaceful transfer of power and/or to call on the people of Moldova for an unprecedented mobilisation and peaceful protests."
The court appointed Filip as interim president to allow him to sign a decree for an election. Filip said Dodon had not fulfilled his duties by failing to dissolve parliament, and called it an attempt to stage a "coup".
Amid signs of trouble brewing on Saturday, the EU's spokeswoman called for "calm and restraint", and for Moldova to respect the rule of law and democracy. Russia urged parties to avoid destabilisation.
ACUM leader Maia Sandu, a former education minister and World Bank adviser, had been appointed prime minister on Saturday. But a court struck down her appointment and that of a Socialist party-nominated parliament speaker.
Plahotniuc's party supporters pitched tents in front of ministries and state institutions on Saturday night.
"The tents pitched yesterday are proof that the Democratic Party wants to use law enforcement bodies to throw the country into chaos to protect a single person - Plahotniuc," Sandu said in parliament on Sunday.
"They do not want to ensure the peaceful transition of power. The orders given now by Plahotniuc are illegal," she said.
Australian Associated Press