In Kyiv, around 200,000 pro-EU demonstrators braved the freezing cold on Sunday to protest new laws opposition leaders have labelled “illegitimate” and Western governments have criticised as anti-democratic.
MPs loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych passed the bills in a matter of minutes by a simple show of hands, despite outcry from the opposition because the recognised electronic system of voting was not used.
Udar party leader Vitali Klitschko denounced the process, calling it a “coup d‘état.”
The tough new laws will virtually outlaw all forms of anti-government protests. They include criminal responsibility for defaming government officials – punishable by one year of corrective labour – and a ban on unauthorised tents, stages or amplifiers in public areas.
Protests involving convoys of more than five vehicles were also outlawed.
Another new measure directly copies legislation in Russia. Organisations receiving direct or indirect financial support from any foreign source will be labelled “foreign agents.” In addition, they will be required to pay special taxes and to routinely publish accounts of thier activities.
The US state department expressed “deep concern” at the passing of the controversial bills.
“We believe deeply that the people of Ukraine want to affiliate and want to be associated with Europe and they want to turn in that direction,” US Secretary of Satte John Kerry said. “And the steps that were taken (…) are anti-democratic. They’re wrong. They are taking from the people of Ukraine their choice and their opportunity for the future.”
Sunday’s rally follows nearly two months of anti-government protests sparked by Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a landmark Ukraine-EU trade deal in November.