Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has suspended a security official and Kiev’s mayor after prosecutors alleged they pressured police into using force against pro-EU protesters.
Yanukovich suspended the head of Kiev city administration and the deputy head of the national security council on Saturday after Ukraine’s prosecutor-general announced that the officials and two others were being investigated on suspicion of abuse of office and will soon be placed under house arrest.
It came as a counter-rally in support of Yanukovich massed in Kiev, a short distance from pro-EU opposition protesters massed behind barricades in the capital.
It is astounding how the country is on the brink of hysteria due to a sovereign decision by the legitimate government of Ukraine.
Police spokeswoman, Olga Bilyk, put the number of pro-Yanukovich demonstators in the city’s European Square at 60,000.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov addressed the crowd waving the Ukrainian flag and the flag of Yanukovych’s Regions Party.
The government staged the rally to counter three weeks of street demonstrations by the opposition.
The economically-troubled nation of 46 million is divided over a potential trade and political pact with the EU, which Yanukovich has backed away from under pressure from Russia.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Ukrainian demonstrators were overreacting to the country’s policy swerve to Russia and criticised the West for excessive involvement in the protests.
US Senator John McCain met Ukrainian opposition leaders in Kiev on Saturday and voiced support for protesters camped out for weeks in the capital, a move sure to anger Moscow for what it sees as Western meddling in its backyard.
Lavrov said the size and intensity of the protests suggested some external force had been stoking dissent.
“There’s no doubt that provocateurs are behind this,” Lavrov told Russian news channel Rossiya 24 in an interview filmed during his trip to Tehran last week, but broadcast on Saturday.
“The fact that our Western partners have apparently lost touch with reality is a great sadness to me.”
Lavrov attacks EU
The opposition has called for a vast turnout on Sunday. Rallies on the previous two Sundays drew hundreds of thousands of protesters.
“It is astounding how the country is on the brink of hysteria due to a sovereign decision by the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
“What did Yanukovich’s government do? … Maybe they announced they would build an atomic bomb? Or maybe they shot someone?”
The Foreign Minister also joined Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, in expressing disapproval of EU politicians such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who have visited protest sites in recent weeks.
“Imagine if I went to Germany, walked among protesters who support parties calling for Germany to change its relationship towards the EU,” he said.
“The European Parliament, NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE would pass a resolution on how outrageous it is for Russia to involve itself in sovereign Germany’s internal affairs.”