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9 Feb, 2014 17:09

​Huge crowds gather for 10th weekly anti-govt rally in central Kiev

Thousands of people have gathered on central Kiev's Independence Square for the 10th consecutive weekend, in an anti-government demonstration called by the opposition.

There are conflicting reports on the number of people who turned out for the demonstration. Police estimated that 6,000 protesters attended the rally. Other sources’ estimations vary from 20,000 to 70,000 people, the biggest figure reported by the AFP.

There have been reports of a throng at the metro stations close to Independence Square [Maidan].

The mass assembly, held for the 10th Sunday in a row since anti-government protests began in November, started at 12:00pm (10:00GMT) local time with traditional prayers. Religious leaders called on the people of Ukraine to “learn how to forgive and to pray for those injured and imprisoned.”

After that opposition leaders took the stage on Independence Square, where protesters have been camping out for months now.

They reiterated their demands for the government and President Viktor Yanukovich to step down.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko attends an anti-government rally in Kiev February 9, 2014 (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

"Now people demand one thing - early presidential elections," the leader of the Strike (Udar) opposition party, Vitaly Klitschko, said from the stage.

He also wants constitutional reform as soon as possible. Klitschko said he spoke to Yanukovich, who said that it would be “worthwhile to start making drafts of changes to the constitution.” But Klitschko insists that people “can’t wait for half a year.”

The opposition wants to get back to the constitution of 2004, which was adopted as part of the Orange Revolution that year, and then start working on a new one.

"People will not wait six months. We can return to the Constitution of 2004, and then work on the new [Constitution]," he declared from the stage.

Klitschko has also said that he had accepted President Yanukovich’s invitation to debate publicly. No particular date or place, however, has been agreed on so far.

"He [Yanukovich] challenged me to a public debate. I immediately agreed, but said that he, too, must come to Independence Square and debate with the people," Klitschko told the demonstrators.

People shout slogans during an anti-government rally in Kiev February 9, 2014 (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

He has called on Ukrainians to come out on a nationwide strike on Tuesday, February 11, at 11:00 am local time.

The nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party has declared that the opposition is now preparing documents for the Hague Tribunal to convict the current government.

The official part, which lasted for almost three hours, was followed by a concert.

Protests in Ukraine started in November 2013, when the government put integration with the EU on hold. Mass demonstrations have since then, on multiple occasions, turned into violent clashes between the opposition and the rally participants.

The opposition has demanded the government’s resignation and that the process of integration with Europe be resumed.

The most violent protests gripped Ukraine in mid-January after Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed controversial anti-protest laws that imposed strict punishments for violators. Following the violent riots, the Ukrainian Parliament canceled the legislation during a special session.

Kiev on February 9, 2014.(AFP Photo / Anatolii Boiko)
Kiev on February 9, 2014.(AFP Photo / Martin Bureau)
Kiev on February 9, 2014.(AFP Photo / Yuriy Kirnichny)
Kiev on February 9, 2014.(AFP Photo / Agenya Savilov)