Thousands of demonstrators are expected to fill the streets of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, again today – despite plans to negotiate an end to the country’s political crisis. The mass protests were sparked by the weekend’s contested presidential vote. Now the two men at the centre of the standoff, prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, are to hold talks, with outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma as mediator.
Those in the capital’s Independence Square claim Sunday’s election was rigged to hand victory to Moscow-backed Yanukovich. International observers and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have also expressed serious reservations about the vote. But Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin has criticised the criticism.
Yuschenko, together with Yulia Tymoshenko, another key opposition figure, has been encouraging his supporters to stay in the streets until he is declared the new head of state. The public responded by filling the centre of Kiev and other western cities – despite freezing temperatures and snowfall.
The scenes in Kiev are being compared to those in Georgia exactly a year ago when Eduard Shevardnaze was ousted from power following a similarly disputed election. The police presence in Kiev has been heavy, but security forces have been containing rather than trying to disperse the crowd and there have been few reports of clashes. With up to 200,000 protesters in the streets at any one time, it had been feared any attempt to break up the rally would end in a bloodbath. Tymoshenko appealed directly to the police to join the opposition movement, and demonstrators have been decorating police riot shields with flowers.