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Ukraine

Ukrainian protesters turn out en masse in defiance of new anti-dissent law

Protesters have clashed with riot police in Kyiv amid renewed anti-government demonstrations. Tens of thousands of people have rallied in the capital in defiance against strict new curbs on protests.

Protesters on the sidelines of Sunday’s anti-government rally in the Ukrainian capital clashed with riot police, attacking them with sticks. The protesters were trying to push their way past rows of police and buses to reach the Ukrainian parliament building.

Police responded by using stun grenades and smoke was seen above the crowd. Dozens of people were reportedly injured in the clashes that lasted several hours.

Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, one of the main opposition leaders, attempted to persuade protesters from attacking police but they did not back off.

Tens of thousands of protesters were rallied in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in response to legislation introduced this week which significantly curbed their right to demonstrate.

Under the new legislation, officials can levy fines and, in some cases, give prison sentences ranging from two to 15 years for public dissent. Punishable offenses include blockading public spaces; entering public buildings en masse; facilitating protests through financial or logistical means; and setting up stages or tents in public spaces.

Some protesters had arrived in downtown Kyiv on Sunday wearing masks and pots on their heads, in direct defiance of the new law's restriction on donning anything that obstructs the face.

The bill passed swiftly through the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday night. The opposition accused the allies of President Viktor Yanukovych, who had favored the law, of skirting the democratic process after they held the vote by show of hands rather than using the procedural electronic system.

EU, Germany criticize law

The EU has questioned the Ukrainian government's decision to support the legislation, saying it undermined fundamental democratic rights.

On Friday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle tweeted that he was "profoundly concerned" because the legislation contradicted "Ukraine's European aspirations."

Germany also criticized the decision. Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said the move would "inevitably have consequences for the cooperation with the European Union."

Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in Kyiv since November, calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych's government after he decided to shelve an EU Association Agreement. Critics fears the decision resulted from undue influence from Moscow.

kms,hc/tj (AP, AFP)

DW.DE