December 19, 2014
Ukraine protesters increase pressure on president Yanukovich
Ukrainian protesters, now in their third month of action, kept up pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich with a mass rally where opposition leaders called for an end to his "dictatorial" powers.
About 20,000 demonstrators rallied on Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of the protest movement, as Yanukovich searched for a new prime minister and the currency of the heavily indebted economy, the hryvnia, remained under strain.
Russia piled further pressure on him at the weekend, linking disbursement of the next tranche of its $15 billion aid package for Kiev to repayment of a hefty gas bill owed to Russian firms.
Opposition speakers addressed both Yanukovich's governing style and his decision to seek closer economic ties to Russia rather than sign a free trade pact with the European Union.
"We want the system changed in the country - we want a system in which the president serves the will of the people, a president who does not have dictatorial powers," former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk told the crowd.
Far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok attacked Russia's influence over Yanukovich, declaring: "Our struggle is not only against the regime of Yanukovich, but against those who support them - against the Kremlin's imperialistic policy."
Yanukovich met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday.
He has since returned to Kiev but no word has yet filtered out on what the two men discussed.