Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk sidelines Klitschko

9th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

Ten thousand pro-Russian protesters gathered Sunday in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk, underlining their desire to join Russia -- and forcing former-boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko to scrap a rival rally.

The crowd chanted "Russia!" "Donetsk, Russian city!" and "Putin for president!" while waving Russian and Communist party flags in the industrial city, which was a former stronghold of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

They also held a minute of silence in honour of police officers killed during violent clashes with pro-European protesters in Kiev last month.

"We don't want to join NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) or the European Union," fumed Oleksandr, a man in his 40s who declined to give his surname.

"We do not support the government in Kiev. Nobody elected them, they appointed themselves," he added.

Robert Donia, one of the protest's leaders, told AFP: "People have mobilised because their patience has run out: Ukraine has been drawn into the Europeans' and Westerners' political-economic game."

He promised more protests in the days to come.

Klitschko, a candidate in Ukrainian snap presidential elections on May 25, had told the media earlier that he wanted to convince the people of Donetsk -- hostile to the new pro-European government in Kiev and keener on close ties with Moscow -- to "stay united" in the face of separatist "provocations".

He also slammed the Russian media's "brainwashing", arguing that protests against the new authorities in Kiev were being boosted by Russians come in from outside.

As thousands of pro-Moscow protesters gathered Sunday on Lenin Square in central Donetsk however, Klitschko had to cancel his own rally which was planned just a stone's throw away to avoid a potentially explosive confrontation.

After gathering below the statue of Lenin that dominates the square, the pro-Russian protesters paraded through the city's streets, raising the Russian flag on the local security forces' headquarters.

In Lugansk near Donetsk, Moscow supporters occupied the regional government building and demanded the resignation of the governor, local media reported.

Eastern and southern Ukraine, including Crimea, have been caught up in separatist fervour ever since Yanukovych's ousting and the installation of a new pro-European government.

© 2014 AFP

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