Three Ukraine ex-presidents back protests
Ukraine's three post-Soviet former presidents voiced support on Wednesday for mass protests raging in the capital Kiev against the government's decision to reject a historic pact with the European Union.
“We express solidarity with the peaceful civic actions of hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians,” said a statement from Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko, and posted on Yushchenko’s party website.
“For the first time, the Ukrainian people have come out on the streets with an apolitical demand that has unprecedented mass support,” said the statement.
It condemned “the excessive use of (police force) against peaceful demonstrators” and called on all sides to refrain from further violence.
It further urged protest leaders and the government to engage in a dialogue that takes into account “the European yearnings of the Ukrainian people”.
Kravchuk, 79, headed Ukraine as its first post-USSR president from 1991 until 1994.
He was succeeded by Kuchma, 75, who in turn picked current President Viktor Yanukovych as his successor in 2004.
Yanukovych won what were viewed as rigged elections over Yushchenko in 2004, sparking that year’s pro-democracy Rose Revolution.
Yushchenko, 59, won a re-run election against Yanukovych in 2005, before losing the 2010 presidential election to his old rival.
Kuchma in particular is believed to have retained broad political influence in Ukraine, and a joint statement by three former leaders with contrasting political view threatens to embarrass Yanukovych’s government.