KIEV, January 1 (RIA Novosti) – Police in the Ukrainian capital said Wednesday that they have received complaints from local residents of harassment by anti-government protesters gathered in the city’s central square.
Protesters have for more than a month been camped out on Kiev’s Independence Square, where they have erected barricades and tents.
The rolling rally has generally been good-natured, despite some early clashes with police, but officials say that residents have complained that they are unable to properly move through the square and the adjoining main city thoroughfare.
“In the last day alone, the Shevchenko district administration has registered 17 cases of illegal behaviour by meeting participants,” police said in a statement.
Police said one complaint was from a volunteer with a charitable foundation who said she was was robbed of her belongings and cash donations while she was in a building overlooking Independence Square that is occupied by opposition groups.
While the discontent that broke out in late November was provoked by a Cabinet decision to reject closer trade and political ties with the EU – a move authorities justified by stating it was preferable to boost economic ties with neighboring Russia – it has with time taken on a more generalized anti-government quality.
Ukraine’s weak economy, much of which is reliant on outdated heavy industry, has struggled to recover from the devastating impact of the recent global financial crisis. Rampant unemployment has driven large numbers of Ukrainians abroad for work and many bristle at perceived high-level corruption.
The protest movement had appeared to be losing momentum until November 30, when police aggressively cleared Independence Square, sparking outrage and prompting hundreds of thousands to rally on the spot the following day. The square, which served as the focal point of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004-2005, has been occupied and closed off to authorities ever since.
Crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands had assembled in the area for several Sundays in succession, although the latest such meeting was considerably smaller. That has prompted speculation that the politicians most active in the protest movement will back away from calls for the government to be dissolved and focus instead on the presidential election cycle in early 2015.