Up to 100,000 Ukrainians massed in the capital Kiev today in defiance of sweeping new laws aimed at stamping out anti-government protests.
The rally, the biggest this year in a cycle of pro-Europe protests convulsing the former Soviet republic for the past two months, was spurred by the legislation rushed through parliament last week and which the opposition says will lead to a police state.
Significantly raising the stakes in the confrontation with President Viktor Yanukovich, opposition leaders announced a plan to gather people’s signatures expressing no confidence in his leadership and that of parliament.
Denouncing as unconstitutional last Thursday’s hurried vote in parliament by Yanukovich’s supporters, they called for moves to set up a parallel structure of power – including a people’s assembly and a new constitution.
“Yanukovich and his henchmen want to steal our country. Ukraine is united as never before in its struggle against those in power today, in its determination not to allow a dictatorship,” declared boxer-turned politician Vitaly Klitschko, the strongest potential challenger for the presidency.
Though setting up an alternative power structure may not be realistic, Sunday’s turn-out suggested it could also be difficult for the authorities to try to solve the crisis by use of force despite the court ban and the new laws.