More Opposition Protests In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of Ukrainians jammed Kiev’s main square today to protest government policies amid a worsening financial crisis, as tensions builds ahead of presidential elections later this year.

Supporters opposition Party of Regions, shout during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, April 3, 2009.

In the second major anti-government rally in over a week, at least 15,000 protesters waved flags of the opposition Party of Regions and chanted "No!" as they protested what they said was the government’s failure to battle the effects of the financial crisis here, one of the worst in Europe.

"Look what they’ve done to the country," said Heorhiy Lukash, a 55-year-old unemployed train driver waving a giant blue flag. "They don’t care about ordinary people."

Ukraine’s economy shrank by nearly 30 percent in the first two months of this year, the national currency lost nearly half of its value against the dollar and close to 1 million people are unemployed. With elections scheduled for Oct. 25, political tensions are running high, with fears that election posturing and infighting will only prolong — or deepen — the crisis.

The International Monetary Fund has offered a $16.4 rescue loan to help the country, but a struggle between President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other political groups has blocked the much-needed second installment.

Parliament needs to pass a series of stabilization measures in order to receive the IMF aid but a crucial vote stalled Thursday, when Party of Regions members blocked parliament doors with chairs and prevented the session from starting. Talks on reviving the legislation are still under way.

Addressing supporters at the rally, Party of Regions leader Vyktor Yanukovych called for early parliamentary elections and demanded that the government resign.

Even though Yanukovych’s party holds the largest share of seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, he hopes to capitalize on the widespread disillusionment with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko and garner even more seats.

Yushchenko on Friday ruled out early elections, saying there were no legal grounds for dissolving the legislature.

"The sooner they go, the sooner we can bring order to our country," Yanukovych told cheering supporters. "Down with these authorities and let us begin building a country we dream of."

The Russia-friendly Yanukovych is seen as a key contender in Oct. 25 vote.

His likely main opponent is Tymoshenko, who led the pro-Western 2004 Orange Revolution with Yushchenko, but who has recently also courted Russia.

The beleaguered Yushchenko, whose approval ratings have sunk to below 3 percent, however, wants the vote to be held in January and has challenged the date.

Source: Boston Herald