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Ukrainian Activists Worried About Extensive Police Training

General Anatoliy Lazarev: "Patient and polite"
KYIV -- Some Ukrainian human rights and opposition activists say that extra training by police said to be preparation for the 2012 European soccer championships will instead be used to suppress antigovernment protests, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

General Anatoliy Lazarev, the Interior Ministry's chief of staff, told RFE/RL on August 15 that the training exercises will help ensure the safety of the tens of thousands of soccer fans who will visit Ukraine next year for the championship tournament, which is held every four years.

He said some 22,500 police will take part in the training, which focuses on the four cities that will host the games: Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk. Poland is co-hosting the tournament with Ukraine.

Lazarev said the police motto for the tournament is to be "patient [and to have a] polite attitude." Hundreds of police are also undergoing English-language training in an effort to improve communication between police and soccer fans.

But some critics say police are undergoing the training to improve the force's ability to suppress dissent by opposition activists.

Hennadiy Moskal, an opposition parliament deputy (Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense faction) and former deputy interior minister, told RFE/RL that "this is only a cover, because the society and authorities are witnessing the increase of protesting attitudes [in Ukraine]."

Police clashed with ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's supporters in Kyiv on August 8 outside of the courthouse ahead of her trial when several protesters were injured.

Human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov told RFE/RL on August 15 he is concerned about the incident.

"[Opposition activists] suffered injuries; they were [violently] pushed into a fence," he said. "One cannot assess this other than as unjustified use of force [by the police]."

Zakharov said he doubts the extensive training that police are currently receiving is being done in preparation for next year's championship soccer tournament.

Meanwhile, Interior Ministry official Lazarev told RFE/RL that those guilty of crimes during the clashes between police and Tymoshenko supporters will be punished.

He said the police have sent a video about the "provocations" to the Kyiv prosecutor's office.