KIEV, November 25 (RIA Novosti) — Tens of thousands of Ukrainians rallied throughout the country on Monday in protest at a government decision to indefinitely postpone the signing of pivotal agreements with the European Union.
In the morning, police used tear gas and batons to disperse a crowd around the government headquarters after numerous protesters hurled rocks and tried to tear off officers’ helmets.
Media reports said that up to 100,000 people had gathered in the capital, Kiev, in rallies that lasted throughout the weekend in the largest demonstrations since the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, which was sparked by anger over a rigged presidential election.
Heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko joined the protesters.
Some demonstrators erected barricades on Kiev’s European Square for what one organizer said would be an “indefinite” protest.
The Ukrainian government, facing mounting pressure from Russia, decided last week to put off the signing of long-discussed association and free-trade agreements with the EU. The signing would have taken place this week.
The government said it would instead seek closer cooperation with Russia and the Moscow-led Customs Union, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The presidents of the European Commission and the European Council said Monday in a joint statement that the offer to sign the agreements was “still on the table.”
They described the would-be deal as “the most ambitious the European Union has ever offered.”
Some 18,000 and 12,000 people also rallied on Monday in the western cities of Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, media reports said. Hundreds of students gathered in protest in the western city of Ternopil, Russian state television reported.
The rallies died down by the evening, however. In the capital, only a few dozen protesters hunkered down in three tent camps — on the European and Independence squares and outside the Cabinet building, the English-language Kyiv Post newspaper reported.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told Russia’s Channel One that his government was not afraid of the protests and that it would check whether demonstrators were being illegally funded.
He said the 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in aid that the EU had offered to Ukraine to upgrade its industries for the would-be free-trade zone would be nothing more than “helping a beggar.”
The Ukrainian premier also dismissed as rumors allegations by the opposition that Russia promised Kiev to pay $20 billion in compensation for not signing the EU deal, Ukrainian television channel ICTV reported.
The EU has blamed unprecedented Russian pressure for Kiev’s decision to suspend the deals, but Moscow has denied any strong-arm tactics and in turn accused the EU of coercing Ukraine to sign.
Earlier this year, Moscow suspended imports of some Ukrainian goods and warned that preferential trade agreements with Ukraine would end if it signed the EU deals.
Corrects first name of Klitschko, which previously given as Vitali, the brother who leads the opposition Udar party.