The street protests started after the November 21 decision by
President Viktor Yanukovich — seeking the best possible deal for
Ukraine to stave off bankruptcy — to walk away from a trade pact
with Europe at the last minute and seek closer ties with its old
The movement has since grown in size and vehemence, bringing tens of
thousands onto the streets in a series of rallies, becoming an
all-out protest against the president and his cabinet.
McCain is the latest of a string of European and American
dignitaries to tour the sprawling protest camp set up behind tall
barricades — prompting Russia to accuse the West of excessive
McCain was due to be joined by the chairman of the Senate's Europe
subcommittee, Chris Murphy, on Sunday.
"I am proud of the people of Ukraine and their steadfast efforts for
democracy," McCain told reporters after meeting the country's
Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.
McCain then met opposition leaders — the ex-boxing champion Vitaly
Klitchko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far right
nationalist Oleh Tyahnybog — who are calling for Yanukovich's
government to resign and for early elections.
Police violence on November 30 against what was initially a
pro-Europe demonstration shocked Ukrainians, setting a match to
deep-seated anger over corruption and sleaze.
U.S. Democrats and Republicans have condemned the harsh measures and
on Friday senators issued a resolution calling for the United States
to consider sanctions in case there is further violence against
"I heard he (McCain) was here. It's nice that they know of us, that
they remember us. It is great that they support us," said Volodimir
Tarabanov, 28, who works for a delivery company in Kiev.
Thousands of Yanukovich supporters staged a rival rally in Kiev on
Saturday, many bused in from Donetsk and other cities in eastern
Ukraine — the traditional stronghold of the president's Party of
"We are here to support the president and stability," 18-year-old
Maria Nikolayeva said, holding the Party of Regions blue flag.
"Yanukovich is our best prospect at the moment ... I don't see any
In an attempt to defuse weeks of unrest, Yanukovich on Saturday
dismissed the head of Kiev's state administration and a national
security aide over the violence on November 30. Prosecutor General
Viktor Pshonka said two more police officials involved that night
were under investigation.
But protesters continued to stream into the capital for the weekend
protest. Talks between the government and the opposition on Friday
appeared to go nowhere.
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Sweden's foreign minister said Russia should not feel threatened if
Ukraine moved closer to the European Union.
"Ukraine has a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia and we have
nothing against that," Carl Bildt told Reuters on the sidelines of a
conference in Monaco.
"Why should they object that the Ukraine has an FTA with the EU? It
is a win-win for Ukraine and Russia. Why they should see everything
as a zero sum game? It's not," said Bildt, who was closely involved
in EU talks with the Ukraine.
TENSIONS IN THE CAPITAL
The proximity of rival demonstrations in Kiev — separated only by a
line of riot police — raised fears of fresh violence.
"The most difficult matters should and can only be solved at the
negotiating table. People should not be driven away from their work,
from their families," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told supporters.
"Let's tell the people to go back home to their families and their
Sergei Bychok, a 43-year-old electrician, said he came to the
pro-government rally because he wanted stability.
"I got my salary but a lot of people are here because they are
afraid they won't," he said in a whisper, referring to widespread
accusations among Yanukovich opponents that the authorities paid or
pressured people to attend their rally.
In the square held by the anti-government protesters — now known as
the "Maidan", meaning "Square," or the "Euro-maidan" — the
atmosphere was peaceful.
For those who stayed overnight, the day began with early morning
prayers followed by an aerobics session led from the stage. The
crowds grew denser towards the evening with people holding up
placards picturing Yanukovich and Azarov behind bars and sporting
stickers reading "Raise Ukraine!".
"I'm here for Europe and against Yanukovich. For me it's almost the
same because it's the European Union association that is our chance
to rid Ukraine of corruption," said Oleh, a 22-year-old engineering
student. "We will be here a month or as long as it takes."
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Catherine Macdonald in
Kiev and John Irish in Monaco; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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