Huge anti-Viktor Yanukovych rally in Kiev bays for blood

Jailed ex-premier calls for 'tyrant' to resign as about 200,000 protest at city's main square

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:06am

Anti-government protesters toppled the state of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev yesterday amid huge protests gripping Ukraine.

A group of protesters dragged down and decapitated the landmark statue after hundreds of thousands of others took to the streets to denounce the government's move away from Europe and toward Moscow.

Protesters took turns beating on the torso of the fallen statue, while others chanted "Glory to Ukraine!"

The chaotic protest further raised tensions in the Ukrainian capital.

Waving EU and Ukrainian flags as well as the red-and-black banners of the wartime anti-communist Ukrainian Insurgent Army, about 500,000 demonstrators crammed into and around Kiev's Independence Square.

Jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko said the opposition was demanding the "immediate" resignation of Yanukovych, in a statement to the mass rally read by her daughter that was met by chants of "resign!" from the throng.

"Yanukovych took a decision to join the club of dictators," Yevgenia Tymoshenko quoted her mother as saying in a message from detention.

"We must peacefully and legally oust him from power. He is no longer the president of our state, he is a tyrant who must answer for every drop of blood that has been shed."

Some of the protesters wore helmets in an apparent attempt to protect themselves in the event of possible clashes with riot police as a priest read a prayer from the stage.

Trademark nationalist chants reverberated through the overcrowded Kiev metro as more protesters sought to join the protest. "Glory to Ukraine!" they shouted. "Glory to heroes!" replied others.

Yanukovych's decision to drop political and free trade agreements with the EU in favour of tighter Russian ties and a crackdown last week on protesters plunged the ex-Soviet nation into its worst political crisis in a decade.

The president on Friday incensed the opposition and its supporters further by discussing the signing of a strategic partnership treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants Ukraine to join a Moscow-led Customs Union.

"The Customs Union is another Soviet Union. We've already been there," protester Olexander Kovalenko said.

The protests in Ukraine have raged for over two weeks since the government abruptly announced it was halting the work on the agreements with the European Union.

Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Kiev and pro-EU western Ukraine in the largest demonstrations since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 forced the annulment of fraud-tainted elections initially claimed by Yanukovych.

The rally in Kiev descended into unprecedented clashes with riot police in which hundreds were injured.

The protesters subsequently occupied Independence Square, keeping police out by erecting barricades. They also seized the Kiev City Hall, with dozens sleeping there overnight.

Yanukovych, who faces an election in 2015, has promised a thorough investigation into the use of force against the protesters but has not said whether he is ready to sit down for talks.

Putin has slammed the protests, saying they looked more "like a pogrom than a revolution", but the West has urged the authorities to heed the demands of the protest movement.