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Protests

Klitschko vows to keep up fight, despite diminished numbers in Kyiv

Tens of thousands have rallied in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to demonstrate against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Despite a depleted turnout, protest leaders vowed to keep up the fight.

Although the turnout at the Sunday protest in Kyiv's Independence Square was relatively strong - with organizers saying that as many as 100,000 attended – the number was lower than in previous weeks.

The demonstration came after President Yanukovych signed a controversial deal, which guarantees Ukraine billions of euros in financial help, as well as cheaper gas, with Russia.

Opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko told supporters that the protests would continue throughout the holiday period. In Ukraine's Orthodox Christian calendar, Christmas falls on January 7.

"We will not leave," said the world heavyweight champion. "We will celebrate New Year here and we will celebrate Christmas here."

"They think that we will get tired, they think that we will go home," said Klitschko, who is leader of the Udar (Punch) party. "This will never dissipate, because we understand that we need to implement reforms and the only way to implement reforms is by changing the leaders."

Independence Square, known as the Maidan in Ukrainian, as well as an adjacent street were filled with protest tents, makeshift kitchens and giant barricades.

There were words of support for the protest movement from Berlin, where released Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky voiced hope that Ukraine's jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko would be released by the Yanukovych government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a number of high-profile releases earlier this week, with Khodorkovsky granted a pardon. A coinciding amnesty is also expected to include two imprisoned members of the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot.

"I hope that President Yanukovych, who frequently communicates with the president of my country will follow his example in this matter - the release of a political prisoner," Khodorkovsky told a Berlin news conference.

rc/lw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)