Pro-EU protesters rally in Kiev

Pro-EU protesters rally in Kiev

Around 10,000 demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital have demanded the signing of an association agreement with the European Union – even though their country’s president has shelved plans for it.

Nightly protests have taken place since president Viktor Yanukovych said last week that he would not sign the pact at an EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Some of the protesters have kept up a round-the-clock presence in tent camps in the capital, Kiev.

Mr Yanukovych’s government said Ukraine cannot afford to sacrifice trade with Russia for the sake of closer ties to the EU.

But demonstrators said this is 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 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 Mr Yanukovych is attending, continues on Friday, but officials appear to have little hope that the president 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 Mr Yanukovych was credited with the most votes. His opponent Viktor Yushchenko won the revote, but Mr Yanukovych gained the presidency in 2010 and is wary of a possible repeat of huge protests.

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