Defiant Ukraine opposition continues pro-EU rallies

Pro-EU protesters on Kiev's Independence Square - 22 December The protest was smaller than on previous Sundays but people still filled Independence Square

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Ukraine's opposition has vowed to continue pro-EU protests over the holiday period, despite an economic deal signed with Russia this week.

About 100,000 people rallied on Kiev's Independence Square on the fifth Sunday in a row, after the government backed out of an agreement with the EU.

Previous rallies drew larger crowds, with as many as 500,000 attending.

Protesters have occupied the square, erecting barricades to prevent police from removing them.

They are demanding the resignation of the government and snap presidential elections.

On Tuesday Russia signed a deal with Ukraine giving it a discount of almost a third on Russian gas and buying $15bn-worth (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) of Ukrainian government bonds.

Correspondents say the deal has strengthened the hand of President Viktor Yanukovych, allowing him to prevent a possible default.

But the European Union has accused Russia of putting unacceptable economic pressure on Ukraine.

'Never dissipate'

Pro-government demonstrators in another part of Kiev decided to end their own smaller protest on Sunday and return home for new year and the 7 January Orthodox Christmas, Interfax news agency reported.

Protesters fries potatoes on Independence Square - 22 December Some protesters are expecting a long stay on the square
Large Ukrainian flag on square - 22 December A huge Ukrainian flag was rolled out across the square
Protesters vote with hands - 22 December Protesters were asked to vote on whether to stay on the square and whether to set up a new movement

They urged their opponents to do the same, but opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klischko asked the protesters to stay.

"They think that we will get tired, they think that we will go home," he said.

"This will never disperse, because we understand that we need to implement reforms and the only way to implement reforms is by changing the leaders."

The opposition also said it was setting up a national Maydan movement, using the nickname of the square, with the aim of broadening support in pro-government heartlands in the east of the country.

"Every person who wants a fair and honest future must be in favour of this movement," said another opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk, quoted by AFP news agency.

The protests were triggered last month by Mr Yanukovych backing out of signing an EU association agreement.

Heavy-handed policing of early demonstrations caused outrage, boosting numbers to levels not seen since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

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