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Ukraine braces for new protests

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-01

Ukraine’s opposition called for fresh protests Sunday against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to sign a landmark trade deal with the European Union, following violent clashes Saturday between anti-government demonstrators and police.

Ukraine’s opposition called for a new wave of demonstrations in the capital Kiev and other cities on Sunday in protest against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to sign a landmark trade deal with the European Union.

Three main opposition parties said they were establishing "a national resistance task force" after riot police forcefully broke up protests at Kiev’s main Independence Square early on Saturday using batons and stun grenades. An estimated 10,000 protesters later regrouped in a square outside a church where they waved the blue and gold EU flag, chanting ‘Revolution’ and ‘Down with the gang’.

As the country braced for further protests on Sunday, police promised there would be no repeat of the violence seen the day before.

Tension has been high in the country since Friday, when Yanukovich declined to sign a pact with EU leaders at a summit in Lithuania, going back on a pledge to work towards integrating his ex-Soviet republic into the European mainstream.

The protests have evoked memories of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004-5, led by jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, against election fraud which blighted Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency. But those protests were much larger and took place peacefully without police action.

Yanukovich, in an address carried on his website, said he was “deeply outraged” by the violence on Saturday. He called for an immediate, objective investigation, but did not specifically blame police.

‘Excessive force’

TV footage showed police beating one young woman on the legs and kicking young men on the ground during the clashes.

EU officials, who had attended the EU Vilnius summit with Yanukovich, condemned what they called “excessive use of force”.

“The unjustified use of force goes against the principles to which all participants of the Vilnius Summit...reaffirmed their adherence,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele said in a statement.

The United States, which has backed Ukraine’s EU integration efforts, also condemned “violence and intimidation”.

A State Department statement said: “We continue to support the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to achieve a prosperous European democracy. European integration is the surest course to economic growth and strengthening Ukraine’s democracy.”

Yanukovich in Vilnius, justifying the decision to revert to Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet master, for economic aid, said the economic cost of meeting EU standards was too high.

His government says moves towards ‘Eurointegration’ have only paused, though the opposition says he is counting on Russia’s help to secure a second term in office in an election in 2015.

Protesters regroup

The interior ministry said the overnight violence had begun when protesters in Independence Square pelted police with trash. Police detained 35 people but quickly released them. There were no firm figures on how many people were hurt, but TV footage showed several with head wounds at the scene.

Ukraine’s opposition condemned the crackdown and threatened a nationwide strike, while demanding the government’s resignation and early parliamentary and presidential elections.

“We have taken a common decision to form a task force of national resistance and we have begun preparations for an all-Ukraine national strike,” former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of three opposition leaders, told journalists.

‘Rise up Ukraine’

Nearly 10,000 protesters regrouped on Saturday, some of them holding candles, at Mikhailovska Square near a monastery where protesters had taken refuge from the police.

Among chants of “Rise up Ukraine”, former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, a Tymoshenko ally who was released from jail earlier this year, encouraged a strike as early as Monday.

“From Monday, Kiev should be blocked and this strike will take away the power of the bandits,” he said referring to corrupt politicians and powerful businessmen who Ukrainians say derive their wealth from their political ties with Yanukovich.

Kiev’s police chief was reported as saying that he had given the order to send in riot police on Saturday but that there were no plans to do the same at Mikhailovska Square.

The protesters were mainly young supporters of the three main opposition parties, including Tymoshenko’s, who are united in pressing for a westward shift in policy towards the EU.

Tymoshenko, seen by the EU as a political detainee, urged people “to rise up” against Yanukovich, in a letter read out by her daughter.

After breaking up the overnight protest, police cleared away anti-Yanukovich posters and political graffiti and took down banners and flags, including those of the EU.

Heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko said, “After the savagery we have seen on Independence Square we must send Yanukovich packing.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-01

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