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Thousands Protest For Press Freedoms In Ukraine

Kyiv, 9 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of Ukrainians today protested in central Kyiv, accusing the government of President Leonid Kuchma of stifling independent media ahead of fall elections.

Protesters criticized the recent closing of opposition station Radio Kontynent, which had aired BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Liberty programs.

Protest leaders also accused the government of involvement in the sudden death of Heorhiy Chechyk, the head of a Ukrainian radio station, last week in a car crash. Chechyk had been considering airing U.S.-funded Radio Liberty broadcasts on his station.

Kuchma's critics also accused him of corruption, abuse of office, arms dealing, vote rigging, and involvement in the unsolved death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000.

Kuchma has denied all allegations.

Witnesses say there were between 3,000 and 5,000 participants at today's peaceful demonstation.