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Ukraine demonstrators push for presidential veto on tax rules

Ukraine's capital Kiev has been the scene of mass demonstrations calling for the president not to sanction a new tax code. Critics say the changes are targeted against smaller firms and could lead to mass unemployment.

Protesters bang metal buckets and shout slogans protesting the draft tax law

Protests against the stricter tax rules began last week

Demonstrations by thousands on behalf of small and medium-sized businesses in Ukraine brought traffic to a halt on Monday, with demands for a presidential veto of a controversial tax reform bill.

Traffic was blocked in the main street of the capital, Kyiv, as more than 6,000 demonstrators assembled at the city's Independence Square.

Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to supporters

Tymoshenko vowed to push for new elections if the laws were not vetoed

Although a court had declared the demonstration illegal last week, protesters defied the ban with chants of "We won't leave, we won't leave."

Protests also took place in the cities of Lviv and Poltava, which, like the Kyiv demonstration, were intended to pressure President Viktor Yanukovych to reject tax reform legislation.

The demonstrations began last week after parliament passed legislation for a hike in company operating fees and tough new tax accounting rules. At the same time, some standards for larger businesses were relaxed.

The protests took place exactly six years after the Orange Revolution, which had brought Yanukovych's rivals to power. The main difference was that now people from all over Ukraine and belonging to various political groups gathered to voice their anger. Organizers kept the protest largely free from party politics.

Former prime minister speaks out

However, one of Yanukovych's political arch-rivals Yulia Tymoshenko, did join the protests. Tymoshenko, the country's former prime minister, threatened to press for a referendum on early presidential and parliamentary elections if the president were to sign the new tax bill.

Two manikins are clad in underwear by protesters

Critics of the changes say they will strip firms of much-needed revenue

"For a national referendum we need to collect three million signatures," Tymoshenko told the crowd. "Do you think we can do that?''

Critics say the new bill only favors big business, and that it could lead to mass unemployment, with many firms depending on tax breaks to survive.

One demonstrator told the Ukrainian television station 5 Kanal that he would keep demonstrating until the demands were met.

"I will stay here till the end," he said. "Today the future of Ukraine is at stake, the future of my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is us or them. Either we are citizens of our country, or just people that can be experimented with.''

Softly, softly approach

The authorities have reacted cautiously to the protests and an attempt on Tuesday to dismantle the tent camp in the center of Kyiv failed.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych has said he is willing to make compromises

President Yanukovich said he was prepared to listen to the demands, but added that the need to remove tax evasion loopholes in the law meant they could not be met fully.

"I understand their demands very well," Yanukovich was reported to have said on Monday. "They will not be satisfied 100 percent."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has defended the tax code, claiming that it is the most liberal in Europe.

Author: Geert Groot Koerkamp (rc)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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