10,000 protesters demand Ukraine sign EU pact
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — About 10,000 demonstrators in Ukraine’s capital on Thursday demanded the signing of an association agreement with the European Union even though the country’s president has shelved plans for it.
Nightly protests have taken place since President Viktor Yanukovych said last week that he wouldn’t sign the pact at an EU summit on Friday in Vilnius, Lithuania. Some of the protesters have kept up a round-the-clock presence in tent camps.
Yanukovych’s government says Ukraine can’t afford to sacrifice trade with Russia for closer ties to the EU.
But demonstrators said that’s short-term thinking that denies the long-term advantages of closer integration with Europe.
A 21-year-old protester, Dmitry Sayenko, said “If Ukraine doesn’t use the chance to become part of Europe, I’m leaving the country.”
Many Ukrainians resent Russia’s centuries of political control of Ukraine and the pressure it has exerted since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
The EU wants to pry away Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, while Moscow aims to get Kiev to join a union that would rival the European bloc.
“Russia has shown that it remains an imperialist country that is pulling Ukraine into the Soviet past, and Yanukovych is helping with this,” said protester Vladimir Mikolaychuk, a 50-year-old businessman.
The EU summit, which Yanukovych is attending, continues Friday, but officials appeared to have little hope that Yanukovych could be persuaded to sign.
If the summit concludes without signing the agreement, the protests could grow larger and more vehement. The mass protests of 2004 known as the Orange Revolution forced the rerun of a fraudulent presidential election in which Yanukovych was credited with the most votes. His opponent Viktor Yushchenko won the revote, but Yanukovych gained the presidency in 2010 and is wary of a possible repeat of huge protests.