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Ukrainians Protest Against Pro-Russian Policies

Policies of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, perceived by many to be pro-Russian, have sparked demonstrations outside of parliament in Kyiv. Inside, lawmakers discussed damages from last month's egg-throwing brawl over one of those policies.

About 2,000 opposition demonstrators waved Ukrainian flags and held banners outside of Parliament with slogans demanding that President Viktor Yanukovych "stop selling out Ukraine." The protesters came mostly from the nationalist Freedom (Svoboda) Party and the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Svoboda Party head Oleh Tiahnybok referred to the Yanukovych administration as anti-Ukrainian and pro-Kremlin, telling demonstrators that authorities are afraid of street pressure. Ms. Tymoshenko said protesters should not think they are weak.

The former head of government says when tens of thousands of people gather, Parliament makes decisions. She adds that if hundreds of thousands gather on Kyiv's Maidan, or Independence Square, Parliament will announce early elections; and if hundreds upon hundreds of thousands protest, Yanukovych will tender his resignation.

The protest comes in response to a succession of foreign policy moves that Ukrainian critics consider too fast, too secretive and too pro-Russian. In late April, Mr. Yanukovych extended the lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet for 25 years in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian gas imports for ten years.

At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, he reversed his predecessor's recognition of Ukraine's 1932-33 Kremlin-inspired famine as genocide. It is known in Ukraine as the Holodomor. Instead, he took Moscow's position that the famine claimed the lives of millions in other former Soviet republics and should therefore not be considered genocide directed at Ukrainians.

These moves come on top of a controversial proposal by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to combine the Russian and Ukrainian state gas companies, seen by the opposition as an assault on Ukrainian independence. The controversial initiatives were announced with little or no public discussion.

Mr. Yanukovych won the presidency in February with a plurality, mostly in the Russian-speaking south and east Ukraine. However, he is not without support. About 2,000 of his supporters held a counter-demonstration Tuesday, also near Parliament. The two sides were separated by police and metal barricades. No incidents were reported.

The speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, says the cost of cleaning the legislative chamber following last month's egg-throwing brawl there will amount to $90,000. The melee erupted when President Yanukovych's majority refused to discuss his controversial Black Sea Fleet agreement before adopting it.

Lytvyn asks that those responsible for the damage voluntarily compensate for the damages. He says one way or another, the costs will be covered, but not by the government.

In response, opposition member Iryna Herashchenko said Lytvyn should not be so much concerned about the furniture as with the health of lawmakers still hospitalized from beatings during the brawl. One of them suffered a concussion.

In a related development, the European Federation of Journalists on Monday expressed concern over reports of growing censorship in Ukraine. Journalists at two major Ukrainian television networks, STB and 1+1, recently signed a petition claiming the Yanukovych administration is pressuring private media owners to roll back freedom of speech.