Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Ukraine's Orange Revolution hits the road

`FRIENDSHIP JOURNEY' A group of artists, musicians, businessmen and filmmakers set off on a journey to the eastern Ukraine to campaign for Viktor Yushchenko

AP , KIEV, UKRAINE

Two Ukrainian opposition supporters dance in front of the presidential administration building in Kiev before the start of a trip to the eastern part of Ukraine, which largely backs pro-Russian candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

PHOTO: AFP

Cars and buses packed with supporters of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko set off on a 10-day road trip, seeking to spread what has been dubbed the Orange Revolution into the eastern strongholds of Yushchenko's rival for the presidency.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, meanwhile, rallied support in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, where nearly 90 percent of voters supported him in the Nov. 21 runoff that the Supreme Court later annulled as fraudulent.

"I will not let you down and will do all my best so that Ukraine would be strong and prosperous and its citizens live happily," Yanukovych was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Yanukovych and Yushchenko face off in a Dec. 26 repeat vote ordered by the Supreme Court.

While Yushchenko garnered support in western and central Ukraine, Yanukovych draws much of his backing from eastern, mainly Russian-speaking regions.

Yushchenko's supporters said om Tuesday that was where the Orange Revolution -- which draws its name from his campaign color of orange and the street protests that erupted after the Nov. 21 runoff -- is headed next.

"We would like the spirit of civil resistance to reach everyone's heart," said Vasyl Kuderiavets, a 34-year-old businessman from the western city of Lviv. "Everyone wants to be free. But not everyone realizes that."

Compelled by Yushchenko's appeal to abandon the street protests and take up the election campaign, artists, musicians, businessmen and filmmakers set off on a journey many said was necessary because state-run media had blocked news of the revolt from the rest of this former Soviet republic.

The convoy of more than 150 opposition supporters left Kiev with sirens blaring and orange flags unfurled. They plan to show videos of the protests from Kiev's Independence Square, to organize rallies -- and to leave graffiti on every gray wall they find.

"In some Ukrainian regions, people live as if they were in ghettos, isolated from information on what is actually going on in the country -- living totally like in Soviet times," said Vakhtang Kipiani, the anchor of a private television station.

While a majority of media in Ukraine is privately owned, most are regarded as mouthpieces of politicians or industrial magnates. State-run media, which supported Yanukovych, has largely ignored the rallies.

Participants plan to visit 14 regions, including Yanukovych's hometown of Donetsk, which only recently canceled a referendum on self-rule planned for early January. The referendum plans had stoked fears that the country of 48 million would break up.

"People should know what is really going on, and realize that they are citizens of the free democratic state," said Oksana Batsak, a cable company owner.

The "friendship journey" was the latest event in an election campaign roiled by explosive revelations, including the confirmation by an Austrian clinic over the weekend that Yushchenko had been poisoned by dioxin.

Prosecutors and a parliamentary committee quickly set up investigations -- the second time each has examined the poisoning incident.

Security agencies offered to take part, but Yushchenko has insisted the investigations should wait until after the vote -- in hopes that the race won't be influenced either positively or negatively.

Lawmakers from Yushchenko's party have said the Austrian clinic's findings confirmed that his opponents wanted to assassinate or sideline him rather than take the risk he would defeat Yanukovych.

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