Bloomberg: Ukraine activists target rally revival after first clashes of 2013

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Ukraine’s opposition is seeking to reinvigorate anti-government demonstrations with the first weekend rally since a seven-day New Year break during which fewer activists took to the streets.

Opposition leaders have called on people to gather at Independence Square in the capital, Kiev, today at noon, reviving a string of Sunday protests that began in November. Clashes with police yesterday that put a former minister in intensive care may help reinvigorate the movement after turnout ebbed during New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays Jan. 1-7.

“The scale of the demonstrations has receded over the past week or so, and the Yanukovych administration will no doubt have been hoping they’d eventually peter out,” Tim Ash, chief emerging-markets economist at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London, said yesterday by e-mail. The latest clashes “underscore their latent ability to flare up, and the still high tensions on the ground.”

Activists have occupied the square since President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a European Union integration pact in late November in favor of a $15 billion bailout and energy discount from Russia. Initial pro-EU gatherings turned into weekly anti-government rallies and permanent camps following a violent crackdown on students on Nov. 30. Protesters demand the government’s dismissal and early elections.

Intensive Care

Seventeen people, including opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko, were injured Jan. 10 after protesters clashed with police over the sentencing of three activists to six years in prison for trying to destroy a statue of Vladimir Lenin in 2011.

Ex-Interior Minister Lutsenko was admitted to intensive care with head injures, his wife Iryna told Channel 5 TV. Eleven people were hospitalized, the Health Ministry said. About 20 policemen were hurt, according to the Interior Ministry.

The prosecutor general’s office has opened a probe into abuse of office by riot police in relation to the clashes and Lutsenko’s injury, spokeswoman Yana Sobolevska said yesterday on Channel 5. Police are also investigating protesters for hooliganism, interfering with court operations and resisting arrest, the Interior Ministry said on its website.

Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who heads the UDAR, or Punch, opposition party, yesterday reiterated a call for EU sanctions against senior Ukrainian officials in relation to police violence.

Win Concessions

After protest numbers dwindled during the New Year break, opposition leaders need a bigger turnout today to buttress efforts to win concessions from the authorities, who’ve so far ignored their demands, according to Yuriy Yakymenko, head of the political department at the Kiev-based Razumkov Center.

“Parliament will reconvene soon and the opposition will start putting forward their political demands — of course they’ll need support from the streets and the masses,” he said by phone. “Keeping this amount of people on the square all the time will be difficult.”

After opposition lawmakers blocked the speaker’s rostrum in Ukraine’s parliament last month, the legislature is poised to resume its work Jan. 14 before discussing this year’s budget two days later. Klitschko also wants Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko to report to lawmakers.

“We demand the prosecutor general’s office stop putting pressure on civil activists and people who fight for their rights,” Klitschko said Jan. 8 after meeting Pshonka.

Crackdown Widens

While Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU accords at a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in late November sparked the protests, they escalated after violent clashes between police and demonstrators. The crackdown has since widened.

A lawmaker for the opposition nationalist party Svoboda and his lawyer were beaten Jan. 3, while at least four cars owned by demonstrators in the eastern city of Kharkiv were set on fire.

There have been about 500 cases of traffic police threatening car owners who drove en masse to Yanukovych’s residence and the homes of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak and Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, protest organizer Dmytro Bulatov said yesterday in televised remarks.

All cases remain open, Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko told opposition lawmakers Jan. 9.

More than 100,000 people celebrated New Year at Independence Square, where concerts continued into the morning of Jan. 1 and where Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament, addressed the crowd from the stage.

While Jan. 5 was the first Sunday since Nov. 24 that the opposition didn’t call on people to gather at the square, known as Maidan, about 10,000 people turned up, according to Interfax.

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