Protests Over Kolesnikov Arrest Peter Out

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The loser of last year's tumultuous Ukrainian presidential elections tried April 8 to drum up outrage by calling for protests over the arrest of a leader from his home region, but few people heeded his summons.

Although the response to Viktor Yanukovych's call for "unprecedented protests" got a tepid response, it underlined the tensions that still plague Ukraine in the wake of last year's bitter presidential vote.

Yanukovych, who has vowed intense opposition to President Viktor Yushchenko's government, tried April 8 to rally more protests over the arrest of Donetsk council chairman Borys Kolesnikov.

Kolesnikov's detention on suspicion of plotting assassination attempts brought out hundreds of protesters on April 7, some of whom set up tents in the eastern city and vowed to stay until he was released. The protesters contended the arrest was politically motivated.

However, on April 8, Donetsk's square was all but deserted and the tents were empty. In downtown Kyiv, a few dozen Yanukovych supporters chanted "Freedom to Kolesnikov" but there was little other sign of protest.

Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun told lawmakers April 8 that Kolesnikov was suspected of plotting three assassination attempts, though they did not say against whom.

His Party of Regions is calling for the central government to loosen its control of eastern Ukraine, which includes his home base of Donetsk.

The call plays on fears in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that Yushchenko's drive for closer ties with Western Europe would weaken Russia's influence in Ukraine.

Kolesnikov's aides say he was detained over his role in the Yanukovych movement, promoting splitting the country along linguistic lines.

Yanukovych was declared the winner of a November presidential ballot, but hundreds of thousands of demonstrators alleging fraud poured into the streets of the capital Kyiv. The Supreme Court annulled the election and ordered a new election that Yushchenko won.

Late April 8, a court in Kyiv ruled that Kolesnikov should remain in custody, rejecting an appeal from his lawyer who called the detention illegal.