Ukraine protesters urge general strike as markets hit currency

Ukraine protesters urge general strike as markets hit currency
# 02 December 2013 19:31 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Ukrainian protesters blockaded the main government building on Monday, seeking to force President Viktor Yanukovich from office with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the "Orange revolution" against sleaze and electoral fraud nine years ago.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Monday accused the opposition of planning to seize the parliament, while Yanukovich appealed for calm, saying protests should be peaceful and law-abiding.

"Any bad peace is better than a good war," Yanukovich said in his first comment on the mass unrest over the weekend. "Everyone must observe the laws of our state."

Yanukovich's decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow's orbit.

The resulting unrest has hammered Ukraine's financial markets, underlining the fragile state of the economy.

The central bank was forced to intervene to prop up the hryvnia and threatened more action, underlining Kiev's vulnerability as it seeks more than $17 billion next year to meet gas bills and debt repayments.

Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed outside actors for the protests, which he said amounted to an attempt to unsettle Ukraine's legitimate rulers.

"This reminds me more of a pogrom than a revolution," Putin told reporters on a visit to Armenia.

Protesters in the capital remained defiant.

"We have no other choice but to defend ourselves and the gains we have made," said Taras Revunets, at Kiev's city hall, which hundreds of demonstrators occupied on Sunday.

With many worried that the unrest could endanger their savings, the central bank sought to head off panic withdrawals.

In a video statement, its chairman said the bank would not introduce any financial restrictions. "I urge everyone to have confidence in the banking system and maintain their savings," said Ihor Sorkin.

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