Thousands of Ukrainians Rally to Protest Opposition Leader’s Beating

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Some 50,000 pro-Western Ukrainians rallied in Kiev calling on President Viktor Yanukovych to step down and to protest the recent beating of an opposition leader.

Thousands of Ukrainians Rally to Protest Opposition Leader’s Beating

Yuri Lutsenko, a member of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko’s cabinet, was transferred out of intensive care on Saturday evening after being attacked by truncheon-wielding police during a small protest the night before.

“He received about 10 blows to the head,” the former interior minister’s spokeswoman said. “No one is allowed to see him except for his closest relatives.”

Nearly 20 activists were injured when they tried to prevent the police from moving to jail three young men who were sentenced to six years for allegedly plotting to blow up a statue of Soviet founder Lenin in 2011.

It marked the first use of force against a leader of Ukraine’s latest wave of pro-Western protests and threatened to reignite the worst political crisis of president Yanukovych’s four-year rule.

The ex-Soviet nation of 46 million has been gripped by ceaseless demonstrations ever since Yanukovych in November ditched an historic EU trade deal in favour of tighter ties with Russia.

The biggest rallies on Kiev’s iconic Independence Square drew hundreds of thousands—an echo of the 2004 Orange Revolution that first nudged Ukraine on a westward path. The city’s main street remains occupied by a tent encampment protected by makeshift barricades to this day.

Protest numbers had begun to recede when Yanukovych brushed aside the havoc in mid-December and struck a $15-billion bailout package with Russia that also slashed the price Ukraine has to pay for natural gas imports on which its teetering economy depends.

But anger at what many saw as the president’s personal orders to crack down on his top political foes saw the number of people gathered at the Independence Monument towering over the city’s central square swell from 10,000 at the last weekly rally on January 5 to what AFP reporters estimated as a crowd of nearly 50,000 on Sunday afternoon.

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