New pro-EU protests in Ukraine

2014-01-13 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Witnesses say at least 50,000 opponents of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich and his government rallied in central Kiev on Sunday, following earlier violent confrontations with riot police. The latest rally was an attempt to revive the pro-European Union protest movement after a Christmas and New Year break.

Ukrainians continued the massive street protests in Kyev's Independence Square which began in November, after President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign a free trade agreement with the EU. He opted instead for closer ties with Russia, as Moscow lowered prices of natural gas exports and spent 15 billion dollars on Ukrainian government bonds.

Sunday's protest followed riots. Since late Friday, people confronted baton-wielding riot police who tried to disperse protesters outside a Kiev courthouse, where activists were sentenced to six-years imprisonment for allegedly trying to blow up a statue of late Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

The confrontation sparked clashes in which at least ten people were injured. Among the seriously injured is opposition leader and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was rushed to hospital, after being attacked by police, explained his wife Iryna. "He has suffered concussion and head injuries which were stitched. Yuriy is still in a critical condition, but he can talk", she told reporters.

Yet, despite the perceived threats of more police violence, opposition leaders said Sunday they would continue to fight and protest peacefully. Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader and former heavyweight boxing champion, accused the authorities of using "the militia as a weapon to silence the people's mouth."

Others urged the West to impose sanctions against senior state officials for using violence against protesters. Western countries have expressed concern about the political situation in the former Soviet republic, with the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations due to hold a special hearing on Ukraine on January 15th. Yet unless the vote is brought forward, a presidential race is only expected next year.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report: