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Protests Greet President In Eastern Ukraine

15 July 2005 -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was greeted by thousands of protesters today on his arrival in Donetsk, a region in the east of the country that overwhelmingly supported his rival in last year's presidential election.

An estimated 3,000 demonstrators were gathered, waving signs that read "Get out!" and "No to a pro-American regime."

Yushchenko later addressed regional officials: "I will come to Donetsk for a third, fourth, fifth, or 10th time. I will not play games with anyone. I will forgive, but I will make people obey the law -- that small group of people who have not understood that yet."

Yushchenko was scheduled to tour a refrigerator factory and meet with regional officials. He was also due to lay flowers at a chapel in memory of miners who have died on the job. The Donetsk region is the center for Ukrainian coal mines, considered among the most dangerous in the world.

Yushchenko came to power on a reformist platform, promising a boost in living standards and eventual membership in Western organizations such as the European Union and NATO. Those aspirations draw little support in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, which traditionally favors closer ties to Moscow.

Some regional leaders in eastern Ukraine suggested during the bitterly disputed election process that they might seek greater autonomy in the event of a Yushchenko victory.