Opposition leaders in Ukraine say they will press for a special session of parliament this week to discuss rising political tensions in the country. The announcement follows police actions early yesterday to break up a tent encampment of antigovernment protesters in the capital, Kyiv. Some 50,000 people demonstrated to demand the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma.
Prague, 18 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine this week witnessed the biggest demonstrations since those demanding independence 11 years ago. Around 50,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Kyiv, on Monday to demand the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, whom they accuse of corruption, abuses of human rights, and of adopting an increasingly authoritarian form of government.
Early yesterday, several thousand riot police armed with shields and rubber truncheons broke up a camp of about 120 tents set up by protesters in front of Kuchma's office. Police say they arrested 64 protesters and found a grenade and two guns.
A court order last week forbade demonstrations in the city center. Protest leaders had refused a government instruction to stage demonstrations at an airfield outside Kyiv.
The Kyiv prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case against protest organizers for causing transport disruption by blocking the roads.
Now, a number of opposition leaders are calling on the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, to hold an emergency session to discuss the police action.
The protests, held under the banner of "Rise Up, Ukraine!", were organized by a diverse array of political parties that say the will of voters in parliamentary elections in March were ignored by Kuchma. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Kuchma's opponents say he has installed a government of his own supporters, though most voters voted for parties that oppose him.
The demonstrations have largely been organized by the Socialist Party, led by Oleksandr Moroz; the Communist Party, led by Petro Symonenko; and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc of former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.
The man who opinion polls repeatedly say is the country's most popular politician, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, also addressed the protesters. Yushchenko, who heads parliament's largest democratic party, Our Ukraine, did not throw his weight behind the demonstrations until last week. Yushchenko believes street protests are not the best way to proceed. Most of his supporters are also fiercely opposed to the Communists and are unhappy about joining ranks with them.
Yushchenko condemned the police action against the demonstrators and indicated that his supporters will continue taking part in demonstrations. "What happened during the night was dreadful. Any government that wants to find a compromise should not behave that way," Yushchenko said.
Yushchenko joined Symonenko, Moroz, and Tymoshenko in pressing for an emergency session of parliament to discuss the tensions. He said he had been among the demonstrators and that if the authorities believe they had committed an offense, he, too, should be detained. "It's proof that the government does not understand what is happening, and the events that took place at 4 a.m. [on 17 September] are the logical outcome of that. It's an untenable position that we do not understand and do not support, and we will do everything in order to return government [to parliament] to begin discussions about a constructive solution," Yushchenko said.
Moroz believes the protests will continue despite the diversity of political views among the demonstrators. He said Monday's demonstrations proved that the alliance can hold together and that people have found common ground. "You could see signs at yesterday's demonstrations of what society really feels and that is characterized by a new, I believe, quality in the development of our society: the beginning of a unified society that one can call the Ukrainian people. A qualitatively different type of society is the one organized by Kuchma and that is a junta-like system, in which everything can be ignored: the law [and] the constitution," Moroz said.
In an interview with the Austrian newspaper "Der Standart," published yesterday, Kuchma said he sees the protests as a sign of a strengthening democracy. He said: "We are all learning democracy and the possibility for people to express disagreement with one or another policy. If people take to the street and complain of grievances, this is understandable."