Ukraine opposition leader Vitali Klitschko vowed that anti-government protesters will not back down from defending their camp in central Kiev even as 21 died Tuesday in clashes with heavily armed police, making yesterday the bloodiest day in the three-month old protest against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The protesters occupy an area known as Independence Square on the Ukraine capital. The protests began in November, in support of a trade deal that allied the Ukranian economy with European markets rather than with Russia, a deal that Yanukovych rejected — and sent police in to attack the nonviolent demonstrators.
The protests have now evolved into a demand for the ouster of Yanukovych and a parliementary vote on forming a new government.
Police continued to besiege the fire-ringed Independence Square camp Tuesday.
“We will not go anywhere from here,” Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, now leader of Ukraine’s opposition Democratic Alliance For Reform told the crowd in the square with plumes of smoke and rising flames all around the stage where he spoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.”
Vitali Klitschko, the first heavyweight boxing champion to hold a Ph.D. degree, left the sport in December to take part in the protests in his native country where he is a sitting member of parliament and has been a prominent political figure for the past decade.
Vitali’s younger brother, Wladimir Klitschko, remains an active boxer and also holds heavyweight title belts.
When Klitschko entered Ukraine politics, he actively supported Yanukovych, but his calls for anti-corruption measures and an economic alliance with Europe have set him in opposition to the Ukraine president.
On Monday night, Vitali Klitschko met face-to-face with Yanukovych to try to negotiate an end to the protests, but came away saying he was “very unhappy” because there was “no discussion.”
“I think the authorities should immediately pull back the police and stop the blood, because people are dying,” Vitali Klitschko told reporters after the meeting. “I told Yanukovich this. How can we negotiate when there is blood being spilled? Unfortunately, he does not understand it.”
The former boxing champ warned that despite the killings, the protests would only get worse if the Ukraine parliament does not call new elections and agree to the oppositions proposed anti-corruption reforms immediately
“We are talking minutes, not hours,” Vitali Klitschko declared Tuesday. “All the world is watching Ukraine. I can’t imagine working with Yanukovych’s government now.”