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Ukraine Opposition Calls for Resignation of President Kuchma - 2002-09-16

An estimated 20,000 Ukrainian demonstrators converged in the center of Kiev for a protest staged by Ukraine's political opposition. Demonstrators called for President Leonid Kuchma's resignation and for early presidential elections.

The protestors, waving flags of various opposition political parties, as well as the national flag, converged on Kiev's central European Square to call for President Kuchma to resign.

Shouting "bandit out," and "Kuchma down from the throne", the demonstrators stood peacefully to hear from various opposition political leaders.

Viktor Yushenko, leader of the opposition bloc called "Our Ukraine", is considered the country's most charismatic opposition leader, and his participation was seen as crucial to the success of the demonstration.

Mr. Yushenko called for transparency in a nation often referred to as one of the most corrupt in the world. He also reiterated calls for the government to enter into a dialogue with the opposition, and for police to avoid provocation.

Addressing the authorities, Mr. Yushenko said, in his words, "there is trouble in our home, so we should sit and talk about how to find a way out of the political deadlock we are now in."

Opposition lawmaker and former Vice-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko delivered a tougher message. She said Ukraine stands on the threshold of a historic chance for democratic change.

She said Ukrainians have the chance to get rid of the president whom, she says, is neither intellectually, morally or spiritually capable of ruling the country.

She urged demonstrators to picket parliament until Mr. Kuchma is forced to resign.

Similar protests were reported in other major Ukrainian towns, though opposition leaders complained the government had ordered a blackout of the demonstration by the national media.

A government spokesperson said maintenance on national television channels had been planned since last year and the outage had nothing to do with the demonstrations.

President Kuchma was out of the country during the demonstrations. He has weathered months of similar protests that began after the disappearance and alleged murder of independent journalist Georgy Gongadze. The president has repeatedly denied any involvement in the reporter's demise.

The latest demonstrations coincided with the second anniversary of Mr. Gongadze's disappearance. A moment of silence was offered in his memory.