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An opposition supporter smiles during protest in front of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev today. Efrem Lukatsky/AP/Press Association Images

Ukraine: Jailed opposition leader goes on hunger strike as protests continue

Yesterday, tens of thousands protested in central Kiev in the biggest demonstration since the 2004 Orange Revolution overturned a rigged ballot and forced new elections.

JAILED UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION leader Yulia Tymoshenko has said she will begin a hunger strike over a government decision to scrap a key EU pact that has sparked huge protests.

Her announcement came as President Viktor Yanukovych pleaded for calm after a second day of nationwide demonstrations over the move.

“I am announcing an indefinite hunger strike demanding that (President Viktor) Yanukovych sign an association and free trade agreement with the EU,” former prime minister Tymoshenko was quoted by her party Batkivschyna as saying.

“And if Yanukovych does not sign our agreement with the EU on November 29, wipe him off the face of Ukraine through peaceful and constitutional means together with his political and corruption metastases. Don’t stop! Go on and never look back,” said the fiery co-leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Breaking his silence for the first time since announcing the shock decision to put the EU talks on ice on Thursday, Yanukovych appealed for peace after police fired tear gas on pro-Europe protesters in central Kiev.

“I want peace and calm in our big Ukrainian family,” Yanukovych said in a video statement posted on his official website.

imageEugenia Tymoshenko in front of a picture of her mother, the jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who has gone on hunger strike. Pic: AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov (File photo)

Protesters are angry at Ukraine’s failure to sign a key pact seen as a first step toward EU membership that would have marked a historic break from the Kremlin by the ex-Soviet state.

The decision came after the parliament failed to adopt legislation that would have freed jailed Tymoshenko, a key EU condition for the signing of the cooperation accord.

Pledging to continue reforms, Yanukovych said he would not act “to the detriment of Ukraine and its people”.

“No one will rob us of a dream about a Ukraine of equal opportunities, about a European Ukraine,” he said shortly before Tymoshenko announced her threat of an indefinite hunger strike.

Yanukovych said that by postponing the country’s EU integration plans, he was shielding many vulnerable Ukrainians from economic hardship.

“Just like a father cannot leave his family without bread, I do not have the right to leave people to the mercy of fate with the problems which may arise… if production comes to a halt (and) millions of citizens will be thrown out into the streets,” he said.

“That is why I have to resort to difficult decisions.”

Yesterday, tens of thousands protested in central Kiev in the biggest demonstration since the 2004 Orange Revolution overturned a rigged ballot and forced new elections.

Another 20,000 returned to the streets of Kiev Monday evening, an AFP correspondent saw.

- © AFP, 2013

MORE: Tens of thousands protest in Kiev over EU agreement delay

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