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Ukrainians Seek Leader's Ouster

Inquiry targets Leonid D. Kuchma for allegedly approving the sale of a radar system to Iraq.

October 13, 2002|From Times Wire Services

KIEV, Ukraine — Tens of thousands of Ukrainians rallied Saturday in the second nationwide demonstration in a month seeking to oust President Leonid D. Kuchma, who is under investigation for allegedly approving arms sales to Iraq.

Protesters waving banners and chanting, "Away with Kuchma," marched behind former Deputy Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz.

Opposition groups and ordinary Ukrainians accuse Kuchma's administration of corruption, chronic abuse of office and vote-rigging that have smothered democratic rule and impoverished this former Soviet republic.

The protest was held a day before the expected arrival of a U.S.-British team to investigate whether Ukraine sold radar systems to Iraq with Kuchma's blessing.

Kuchma is also accused by the opposition of curbing free speech and political activity, as well as involvement in the killing of an investigative journalist.

Kuchma, 64, denies all the charges.

Smaller protests took place Saturday in other major cities throughout Ukraine, according to news reports.

The U.S. State Department said last month that it had verified the authenticity of parts of a July 2000 recording by Kuchma's former bodyguard in which the leader allegedly is heard approving the sale of a Kolchuga system to Baghdad.

As night fell Saturday, opposition leaders marched with protesters to the prosecutor general's office to deliver a list of 35 criminal charges they want the courts to press against Kuchma, who was invited to defend himself in front of about 20,000 demonstrators in the capital.

"For the crimes he's committed against the country ... Kuchma deserves the highest punishment: life in prison," said Hryhoriy Omelchenko, head of the parliamentary committee investigating corruption.

"We cannot breathe, live and think freely. It is impossible in Kuchma's state," said Sergei Golovaty, a parliament deputy.

A spokeswoman said Kuchma would not appear because he was busy with official business.

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