Fresh show of force as 70,000 take to streets
KIEV — An estimated 70,000 pro-Western Ukrainians thronged the heart of Kiev on yesterday vowing never to give up their drive to oust President Viktor Yanukovych for his alliance with old master Russia. Wearing blue and yellow ribbons — the colours of both Ukraine and the European Union — the crowds received a religious blessing before opposition leaders took to a podium on Independence Square in a bid to ratchet up pressure on Yanukovych to appoint a new pro-Western government. “None of the kidnappings and tortures have yielded any results,” said Igor Lutsenko, who was grabbed by assailants during deadly unrest in January and beaten up at the same time as another activist who was later found dead. Speaking from Lithuania where he is being treated after being tortured, Dmytro Bulatov, another activist, said he had no intention of giving up.
“We will go further,” he said by phone in a conversation broadcast over a loudspeaker to the crowds. The ex-Soviet nation of 46 million people has been thrown into chaos since November when Yanukovych ditched an historic EU trade and political pact in favour of closer ties Moscow, stunning pro-EU parts of the population and sparking violent protests. Since then, what started out as a localised, domestic bout of unrest has snowballed into a titanic tussle for Ukraine’s future between Russia and the West, as demonstrations continue and spread to other parts of the country. Yanukovych has already yielded to some opposition demands by dismissing the government, but he also has to appease Russia, which has effectively frozen a much-needed $15 billion (11 billion euro) bailout until the situation clears up.
The embattled Ukrainian leader held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on the sidelines of the opening of the Winter Olympics. It is unclear what the two discussed, but Yanukovych had been expected to raise the issue of the bailout, of which Russia has so far issued only one instalment of $3.0 billion. “We hope that authorities will make concessions and that agreements with the opposition will bring results. Because the authorities look like Somali pirates who take hostages and then negotiate,” 29-year-old Oleksandr Zaveroukha, who had come from western Ukraine, said in Independence Square. “We are determined to stay until the end.” On the square, the crowds listened attentively to the speeches from the podium, out in force on a relatively mild day for the Ukrainian winter. — AFP