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Ukraine: Anti-government protests intensify

Anti-government protests in Ukraine are intensifying as a tense standoff develops between protesters and riot police.

Dissenters have been gathering in Kiev’s Independence Square since the Ukrainian government failed to sign a proposed free trade deal aimed at promoting greater integration with Western Europe in late November. Rumoured interference from Russia has caused many to question the country’s future direction and recent events in the capital’s main square suggest that many are not satisfied with what they see as the continued close links between President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin.

Over the last two weeks, the protests have intensified, culminating in the toppling and destruction of a statue of Lenin. In response to the on-going unrest, President Yanukovych said he would hold talks involving the opposition on Tuesday. There are, however, fears that the situation could escalate and become a full-blown political crisis. Protesters are blockading government buildings with cars, barricades and tents, while on Monday, police began to move and dismantle some of the protest camps.

President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said in a statement that he had spoken to Mr Yanukovych over the telephone and asked him “to show restraint” and “to not use force against the people that are demonstrating peacefully, to respect fully the freedoms that are so important for all of us in Europe”. Fears of a violent crackdown in Ukraine are rising as opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion, urged women and children to leave the square.

The scenes evoke memories of 2004’s Orange Revolution, which saw pro-western candidate Viktor Yushchenko assume power, but the impact proved to be short-lived as President Yanukovych won an election in 2010 amid protests from the now-imprisoned Yulia Tymoschenko.

The protests are therefore just the latest in a series of events that have thrust the spotlight onto Ukraine’s government. A belief amongst some that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to model a new Russian-led customs union on the Soviet Union that so far only Belarus and Kazakhstan have joined, coupled with the Yanukovych administration’s favoring of close trade ties with Russia makes an immediate end to the standoff unlikely. Tensions are rising, with Klitschko declaring: “If blood is spilled during this dispersal, this blood will be on the hands of the person who ordered it – Yanukovych.’One can only hope the situation will be resolved before that becomes a reality.

Find this interesting? You may also like our ‘Country Analysis Report on Ukraine’.

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