Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gather on Independence Square in Kiev to attend a mass rally yesterday.
KIEV: Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians flooded central Kiev yesterday in a gigantic new protest calling for President Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation over his rejection of an EU pact under Kremlin pressure.
Waving EU and Ukrainian flags as well as the red-and-black banners of the wartime anti-communist Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the protesters filled Kiev’s iconic Independence Square and surrounding streets to bursting point. The size of the protest, the third mass rally on successive weekends, increased the pressure on Yanukovych who further galvanised his opponents by meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in almost total secrecy on Friday.
The party UDAR (Punch) of world boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko claimed “nearly a million” had turned out for the “March of Millions” in Kiev.
Police estimated the turnout at more than 60,000 and witnesses said there were several hundred thousand packing the square and surrounding areas. Jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko said the opposition was demanding the “immediate” resignation of Yanukovych, in a statement to the mass rally read by her daughter that was met with chants of “Resign!” from the throng.
“He is no longer the president of our state, he is a tyrant who must answer for every drop of blood that has been shed,” Yevgenia Tymoshenko quoted her mother as saying, a giant portrait of the former prime minister sitting next to the stage. In contrast to a similar rally which descended into unprecedented clashes with riot police and saw hundreds injured a week ago, the rally yesterday was proceeding peacefully.
The protests in Ukraine have raged for over two weeks after the government abruptly announced it was halting the work on key political and free trade agreements with the European Union.
Protesters have seized control of the Independence Square, setting up a tent city amid barricades, and persisted with a blockade of key government buildings. The action is dubbed “EuroMaidan” after the Ukrainian name for the square.
The leader of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Arseniy Yatsenyuk yesterday said the opposition would expand its protests by pitching tents outside the seat of government and the presidential administration.
“We are starting to picket the entire government quarter,” he told the rally, calling on the protesters to step up the blockade of public buildings.
There was no immediate reaction from Yanukovych’s office but hundreds of internal troops cordoned off the area around the presidential administration.
Yanukovych has promised a thorough investigation into the use of force against the demonstrators last weekend but has not said whether he is ready to sit down for talks with the opposition. AFP