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Europe

Kiev mayor suspended amid pro and anti-government rallies

© Photo: AFP

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-14

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich Saturday gave into one of the demands of the protestors gripping the capital Kiev by suspending the city’s mayor.

Kiev city chief Oleksandr Popov and deputy head of the National Security Council Volodymyr Syvkovych will both be removed from duty while an investigation is carried out into an alleged abuse of office over a violent police crackdown on protesters last month.

Dozens of protesters, many of them students, were injured after riot police violently dispersed a small rally on Kiev's Independence Square in the early hours of November 30, beating protesters on the heads and limbs, dragging them on the ground, and chasing fleeing activists to beat them more.

Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka told journalists that the two suspended officials "pressured Kiev's police chief to use violence" against the demonstrators.

Two other officials - the then-head of Kiev police and his deputy - have also been placed under investigation. Prosecutors will seek to place the suspects under house arrest.

President Yanukovich stopped short, however, of fulfilling the protesters' demand that he fire two of his closest allies: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the beleaguered Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, whom the protesters also view as responsible for the crackdown.

Demonstrators began taking to the streets in Kiev after Yanukovich refused to sign an association deal with the 28-nation European Union on November 21, choosing instead to back closer ties with Russia.

Demonstrations have since grown in strength and turned into an all-out movement against the president and his administration.

Pro-government supporters take to streets

On Saturday, however, tens of thousands of Ukrainians rallied in support of President Yanukovich in central Kiev, separated by a line of riot police from anti-government protesters.

Less than a day after talks between the government and the opposition failed to resolve the political crisis, Yanukovich's supporters waved the blue flags of his Party of Regions and chanted the president's name.

"We are here to support the president and order," 18-year-old Maria Nikolayeva said. "Yanukovich is our best prospect at the moment."

Buses that brought many of the pro-government protesters to Kiev in the early hours from Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine were parked in streets around the rallying point in European Square – a short distance from the main camp set up by opposition protesters.

At the same time, many anti-government protesters were arriving in Kiev for a mass demonstration planned on Sunday.

“About an hour ago the pro-government demonstration got underway only 300 or 400 metres from Independence Square, where the anti-government and pro-EU demonstrations have been going on for three weeks now,” reported Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Kiev.

“It’s a rather tense situation with these two opposing camps so close to each other.”

But despite fears the close proximity of the two groups of protesters could lead to violence, the atmosphere at Independence Square Saturday afternoon was peaceful.

Early morning prayers followed by an aerobics session presented on-stage started the day for protesters who stayed overnight. Others brought their children or grandchildren to the square as the sun shone in the capital.

"I'm here for Europe and against Yanukovich. For me it's almost the same because it's the European Union association that is our chance to rid Ukraine of corruption," Oleh, a 22-year-old engineering student, said.

"We will be here a month or as long as it takes."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-14

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