Ukrainians Protest Financial Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of car drivers in the Ukrainian capital angrily blew their horns for several minutes Monday, protesting what they call incompetent and corrupt government policies that led to a devastating financial crisis.

A pregnant woman begs for money in central Kiev.

The Ukrainian currency has lost some 40 percent of its value since September as a fall in the export of steel, the heart of the economy, led to a shortage of foreign currency. That was coupled with a loss of confidence in the hryvna and the banking system.

Monday's protests branded "Enough" and organized mainly through the Internet were a sign of growing anger and opposition to the government which experts say could boil over into mass protests in the coming months.

Many Ukrainians think that their leaders, brought to power on a wave of the 2004 pro-democracy protests known as the Orange Revolution, have betrayed their promises of turning Ukraine into a prosperous European nation.

Instead, the government has been paralyzed by infighting and failed to deal efficiently to deal with the financial meltdown even after receiving several billion dollars on a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

"We've had enough of the authorities," said one protester, Ihor Ratushny.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has accused the National Bank officials of making huge profits on the shocking devaluation of the hryvna by allowing speculation on the foreign currency exchange.

The National Bank denies the accusations, which were seen by some analysts as aimed at Tymoshenko's arch-rival, President Viktor Yushchenko.

Ukraine is sinking into a deep depression. Yushchenko has forecast that the economy will contract by up to 10 percent in the first quarter of next year. Tens of thousands of workers face layoffs as steel and other plants across the country freeze.

Industrial output shrank nearly to 30 percent in November, from a year earlier, the sharpest drop in a decade.

On top of the crisis, Ukraine is facing Russia's threat to cut natural gas supplies on Jan.1 over its debt for the past supplies.

Source: AP


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