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Ukraine Court Bans Protests in Central Kyiv

A police officer looks out from behind his shield as he and his colleagues block emergency workers as they protest against the draft state budget for 2014, near the Ukrainian parliament building in Kyiv, Jan. 14, 2014.
A Ukrainian court published on Wednesday a ban on protests in central Kyiv, boosting opposition fears of a crackdown on rallies where hundreds of thousands have demonstrated against President Viktor Yanukovich.

Protests broke out in late November after Yanukovich spurned an EU free trade deal in favor of boosting ties with Russia. At least 50,000 marched on Sunday, reviving the movement after a Christmas and New Year lull.

At their height, weekly protests against Yanukovich rallied hundreds of thousands of people. There are still tents for protesters on Independence Square in central Kyiv and a stage for opposition leaders to address the crowd.

The ban was decided on Jan. 6, but only issued now, and runs from Jan. 8 to March 8. It defines a mass protest as “an event using loudspeakers... posters, putting up of tents, stages or curtains.”

The court did not explain the delay in publishing the ban, but opposition activists say it is a sign of a tougher line to come.

“We believe that it is a fact of preparation for... repressions against peaceful activists across the country,” said a statement from the opposition party UDAR, which is led by former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

In early December, a violent crackdown by riot police of a student demonstration in Independence Square accelerated protests across the former Soviet republic.