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Ukraine's opposition seeks West's help at mass rally

© AFP

Video by Clovis CASALI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-02

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s office said he would return to work on Monday after a short sick leave, while opposition leaders publicly requested financial aid from Western powers and sent a tortured activist to the EU for treatment.

Protesters seeking Yanukovich's resignation held one of their largest gatherings in recent weeks on Sunday, with about 60,000 people assembling at the main protest site in Kiev's central square.

"We spoke to our Western partners and told them that we need real financial aid," Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister, told the rally.

"They are ready to do it. By 'we', I mean the Ukrainian people. Not a single kopeck should go to the Yanukovich regime," he said.

Yatsenyuk and boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, two of the opposition movement’s leaders, both attended the Munich Security Conference on Saturday where Europe and the United States sparred over Ukraine with Russia, which has condemned Western pledges of support as interference.

Klitschko later said that Dmytro Bulatov, an opposition activist whose torture at the hands of kidnappers has angered anti-government protesters, has been allowed by the authorities to leave hospital and travel to Latvia and Lithuania for treatment.

European Union leaders had offered Bulatov treatment after he was found bloodied and injured in woods outside the capital and said he had been crucified and beaten by unidentified assailants during a week in captivity.

Sunday's rally free of violence

FRANCE 24 correspondent Gulliver Cragg said no such violence tainted Sunday’s rally, and he mentioned poetry readings and musical events taking place in a public building that was the scene of clashes between protesters and police earlier this week.

“After the last two weeks in which the atmosphere here has been dominated by the self-defence forces carrying their makeshift weapons and protecting Independence Square, more ordinary unarmed Ukrainians came out just to demonstrate and the atmosphere was more joyous’, Cragg said from the site of the rally.

He added that protesters welcomed the calls for international assistance: “Protesters are a bit wary of their opposition leaders, who have served in previous Ukrainian governments that did very little to change Ukraine’s system.” Cragg said this was the reason why Klitschko again appeared so popular on Sunday. “He comes from outside the political arena and people like him for that.”

FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from Kiev protest

Yankuovich to return to work

The demonstration followed an announcement on Yanukovich's website which says he is to return to work on Monday following a short sick leave.

"After undergoing required treatment, the president of Ukraine feels well and his health is satisfactory," his official website quoted a senior state medical official, Oleksandr Orda, as saying.

The announcement last Thursday that Yanukovich was on sick leave due to an acute respiratory illness raised concerns that he may have been taking himself out of action in preparation for declaring a state of emergency as the country's political crisis heads into its third month.

Ukraine's economy is mired in deep economic trouble and Russia has put its $15 billion bailout package on hold.

Yanukovich has over the past few days accepted the resignation of his prime minister and repealed the hugely controversial anti-protest laws that had radicalised the protest movement.

But the opposition still has a number of demands, including an overhaul of the constitution that would take away some of the president's sweeping powers and the release of more than 100 protesters arrested since the beginning of the demonstrations.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Ukrainian anti-corruption activist lives as semi-fugitive

Date created : 2014-02-02

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