KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Thousands of people demonstrated in central Kiev for a fifth straight day on Wednesday to protest the Ukrainian government's decision not to sign an agreement with the European Union but to restore ties with Russia instead.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Thousands of people demonstrated in central Kiev for a fifth straight day on Wednesday to protest the Ukrainian government's decision not to sign an agreement with the European Union but to restore ties with Russia instead.
About 5,000 people were on Independence Square, listening to music and singing, several hours before the evening's demonstration was scheduled to start. Tuesday night's protests drew an estimated 7,000 people.
Earlier Wednesday, a couple of thousand demonstrators rallied outside the Ukrainian government building to call for the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The EU had made the release of Tymoshenko, the political rival of President Viktor Yanukovych, a condition for signing the association agreement at a summit that begins Thursday in Vilnius, Lithuania. Yanukovych still plans to attend the EU summit.
The freeing of Tymoshenko "would be a sign, a symbol, that Ukraine is truly ready for change and is ready to become part of Europe," said Igor Nesterovich, 42, who had come to the capital from the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk to take part in the protests.
Yanukovych's government has explained its decision to back away from efforts to integrate with the EU by saying that Ukraine could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia. As Kiev intensified talks with Brussels in recent months, Russia imposed punishing trade sanctions on Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has blamed the turnaround on the EU's refusal to provide any financial aid to help Ukraine's struggling economy.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an EU envoy who has pushed Yanukovych to free Tymoshenko, lamented that the West has nothing to offer Ukraine to help it overcome the "economic blockade" that Russia initiated in the summer.
"This is lacking, but this is crucial because Ukraine's economy is in extremely poor condition, the budget is close to bankruptcy and whoever can help today rather than after a few years is the stronger partner," Kwasniewski said on state Polish Radio 1.
The Kiev protesters had been split between two central squares, but on Wednesday afternoon those on Europe Square took down their tents and moved to Independence Square, the center of the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko was the heroine of the peaceful Orange Revolution, which overturned Yanukovych's victory in a rigged presidential election. She narrowly lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election, and the next year was sent to prison in a case widely seen as political retribution. Yanukovych comes up for re-election in early 2015.
"Sooner or later, she (Tymoshenko) will walk free," said political analyst Viktor Zamyatin of the Razumkov Center. "But understanding the danger she poses to him, Yanukovych is doing everything he can to drag this out as long as possible."
Associated Press writer Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.