KIEV: Ukrainian pro-Europe demonstrators vowed to stay on the streets and continue their blockade of government buildings, despite a police threat to crack down “harshly” to enforce a court order that protesters disperse.
Kiev’s decision on November 21 to abandon a trade and integration deal with the EU and instead pursue closer economic ties with Russia brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets over the weekend. Protesters have since blockaded the main government headquarters and occupied city hall.
The government ratcheted up its rhetoric on Thursday, with the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, branding opponents “Nazis and criminals”. Kiev’s police chief, Valery Mazan, threatened to “act decisively, harshly” if the protesters defy the court order to end their blockade and occupation of government buildings. But the protesters showed no sign of retreating, with thousands remaining camped out deep into the night.
“Let them come; we will stay,” Igor Vorkuta, 47, said of the police. “This is a peaceful revolution, there are no guns here,” he said, warming his hands on a brazier in the winter cold near midnight in the square. The crisis has exposed a gulf between Ukrainians, many from the west of the country, who hope to move rapidly into the European mainstream, and those mainly from the east who look to the former Soviet master Moscow as a guarantor of stability.
Meanwhile, jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has ended a hunger strike after 12 days, Interfax news agency quoted her daughter, Yevgenia, as telling reporters. Former prime minister Tymoshenko, jailed in 2011 for abuse of office over a gas deal signed with Russia, had announced a hunger strike in support of opposition protests against the Ukrainian government’s decision to spurn a landmark trade pact with the European Union. “At the request of the square, she has ended the hunger strike,” Yevgenia said, referring to the protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square.
Also, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych held unannounced talks in Russia with Vladimir Putin on a new strategic partnership treaty with Moscow, a move that risks further galvanising mass pro-Western demonstrations against his rule.