The opposition rally is by far the biggest seen in the Ukrainian capital since the Orange Revolution nine years ago [AP]
|More than 100,000 demonstrators have chased away police to rally in the centre of Ukraine’s capital, defying a government ban on protests in Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president’s refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union.
Chants of “revolution” resounded across a sea of EU and Ukrainian flags on the square, where the government had prohibited rallies starting on Sunday.
A group of protesters used a tractor to try to break through police lines near the office of President Viktor Yanukovich, eyewitnesses said.
The approach to the entrance to the presidential administration building was blocked by a line of buses as well as several metal barriers.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, addressing the protesters, called on Yanukovich and his government to resign, saying they had “stolen” Ukraine’s dream of European integration.
‘They stole the dream’
“The government and the president should resign,” said the heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition politician.
“They stole the dream. If this government does not want to fulfill the will of the people, then there will be no such government, there will be no such president. There will be a new government and a new president,” he said to cheering crowds.
The opposition rally, by far the biggest seen in the Ukrainian capital since the Orange Revolution nine years ago, came a day after a police crackdown on protesters which inflamed demonstrators further after Yanukovich’s U-turn on Europe.
In a bid to defuse tensions ahead of the rally, Yanukovich issued a statement saying he would do everything in his power to speed up Ukraine’s moves toward the European Union.
In a sea of blue and gold, the colours of both the EU and Ukrainian flags, protesters flooded the streets of central Kiev, angered by Yanukovich’s decision last month to forego signing a landmark EU deal in favour of closer ties with Kiev’s former Soviet master, Russia.
“We are furious,” said Mykola Sapronov, a 62-year-old retired businessman. “The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom.”
‘We will respond’
The crowds then moved on to Independence Square, the site of the pro-EU rally that police violently broke up on Saturday.
The interior minister warned that police would respond to any disorder and said Ukraine had no place among the ranks of countries like Libya or Tunisia, where popular uprisings overthrew old guard leadership.
“If there are any calls to disorder, we will respond,” Interfax reported Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko as saying.
But riot police, who had sealed off part of Independence Square following Saturday’s crackdown, withdrew as the marchers approached the square.
Sunday’s rally also marked the anniversary of a 1991 referendum that ushered in Ukraine’s independence from the then-crumbling Soviet Union.