Tens of thousands of Ukrainians yesterday defied a ban on protests by marching through central Kiev in support of early elections meant to punish Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for rejecting a key EU pact.
The flag-waving demonstators gathered in a park before moving toward Kiev’s Independence Square, in defiance of a court order banning rallies in the city center, reporters said.
The demonstrators sang the national anthem and chanted “Ukraine is Europe,” while waving EU and Ukrainian flags.
Three main opposition parties on Saturday said they were establishing “a national resistance task force” after riot police brutally dispersed a rally of opposition supporters and wounded several dozen.
The rally was broken up by baton-wielding police who attacked about 1,000 protesters on Independence Square in the capital Kiev in the early hours of Saturday morning.
About 10,000 people had gathered in central Kiev on Friday night calling for Yanukovych’s dismissal after the president refused to sign a key political and free trade agreement with the EU.
The opposition called for a new protest in a central Kiev park after police surrounded Independence Square with metal barriers.
“We can and should remove these authorities,” world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the UDAR (Punch) party, told supporters on Saturday.
“We should come out and show that we will not allow them to humiliate us, we will stand up for our rights,” he told the crowd nearly a week after mass protests broke out across Ukraine following the authorities’ decision to scrap the EU deal that would have set the ex-Soviet nation on a path to European integration.
On Saturday, current EU chair Lithuania said the use of force was “reprehensible,” and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele called for a probe.
Amnesty International called on the Ukranian authorities to live up to their obligations to protect human rights.
Late on Saturday, Yanukovych said in a statement he was “deeply outraged” by the use of force against the protesters and vowed that those responsible would be punished.
Opposition protesters massed on Saturday outside an ancient, golden-domed church where several hundred demonstrators — many of them out-of-towners — had received sanctuary earlier in the day.
Monks at the Mikhailovsky monastery gave the protesters, many with blood on their clothes and flags, first aid and food.
One of the monks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the demonstrators were allowed to remain in the church on the condition they refrained from smoking and drinking.
Additional reporting by AP