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Ukrainians Demand Leader's Resignation

Tens of thousands march, chanting 'Kuchma out!' and calling for elections.

March 10, 2003|From Times Wire Services

KIEV, Ukraine — Tens of thousands of Ukrainians braved bitter cold Sunday to demand that President Leonid D. Kuchma resign, in one of the largest protests since their country gained independence in 1991.

Columns of demonstrators 40 wide marched down the main boulevard of Kiev, the capital, chanting "Kuchma out!" under a sea of blue and yellow national flags and red Communist banners. The rally marked the second anniversary of violent demonstrations against Kuchma.

Kuchma's critics accuse him of corruption, abuse of office, arms-dealing, vote-rigging and involvement in a journalist's death. The leader, due to step down in 2004 after two terms, denies the charges. He spent the day in Slovakia.

In a sign of unity within the opposition, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, the country's most popular lawmaker, shed his earlier reluctance about leading protests. He marched alongside Yulia Tymoshenko, a strident anti-Kuchma lawmaker, as well as Communist and socialist party leaders.

"Ukraine is in danger," he said. "The authorities are corrupt. They are killing freedom and democracy."

Opposition lawmakers called for early presidential elections, more representative parliamentary election rules, an end to censorship and the release of political prisoners. In an attempt to preempt the opposition, Kuchma announced plans last week for constitutional reforms that would transfer many executive powers to parliament.

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