News / Europe

Ukraine Opposition Leader Launches Hunger Strike

An Interior Ministry officer walks past a board displaying a portrait of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko at a protest tent camp set up by her supporters in central Kyiv, Nov. 18, 2013.
An Interior Ministry officer walks past a board displaying a portrait of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko at a protest tent camp set up by her supporters in central Kyiv, Nov. 18, 2013.
VOA News
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has begun an indefinite hunger strike to force the Ukrainian government to sign a landmark trade agreement with the European Union.

Tymoshenko announced on Monday she would go on hunger strike after President Viktor Yanukovych announced he is scrapping plans for the agreement, calling the decision "difficult, but unavoidable." He said the Ukrainian government is instead focusing on trade ties with Russia.

The EU pact was suspended after parliament refused to pass legislation freeing former prime minister Tymoshenko. Her release was a key EU condition for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

The decision sparked skirmishes in a central square in the Ukrainian capital, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators protesting the government's decision.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-Europe demonstrators swarmed Kyiv in one of the largest protests since the Orange Revolution nine years ago.

Several hundred people supporting President Yanukovych also marched through Kyiv for a second day Monday.  

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday criticized Russian pressure over the accord, and said the EU offer remains on the table.

Russia is accused of exerting months of political and economic pressure including threats to Ukraine's oil supplies.
 
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told parliament Friday that the move did not alter Ukraine's strategy of EU integration.

Tymoshenko is in detention on charges of abuse of power stemming from her time in office. She says the charges are politically motivated.

Ukrainian protester Petro Lyutko said Tuesday he will camp in a square in central Kyiv until November 29, when the matter comes up for the EU's decision in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. "Until the 29th -- until Ukraine's fate is decided in Vilnius. Until then we will stay here because there is no other way. We have to fight for European values for the future of my grandchildren," he stated.

Fellow protester Vadim Toropov said if the agreement is not approved, Ukrainians will opt for a change of government, one way or another.

If this doesn't happen, we're going to change the authorities, and the only question then will be which way to do it -- the military way? Because after yesterday's beatings by the riot police, people are ready to fight."

The topic is expected to remain open for discussion between the EU and Ukraine at Friday's Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.

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