Students besiege leader's HQ

April 12, 2001

Students besieged the Ukrainian president's office this week and tried to make him swear on the Bible and constitution that he was not responsible for the murders of journalist Heorhiy Honhadze and other critics of his regime.

The protest took place on April 9, a month to the day after the students failed to prevent President Leonid Kuchma from marking the anniversary of the birth of Ukraine's national poet, Taras Shevchenko, by laying flowers at a statue of him in a park in Kiev facing the National University.

Shevchenko is honoured by Ukrainians not only as a literary genius but as a champion of human rights and free speech.

The students said it was "unfitting" for Mr Kuchma, who is suspected of ordering the killing of Mr Honhadze, to perform such an act.

Although Mr Kuchma - surrounded by a massive police presence - managed to lay his bouquet, the confrontation and the arrest of 85 protesters galvanised students nationwide. The Kiev police have since acknowledged that "unprofessional mistakes" were made in the arrests.

The release of all those detained as a result of the March 9 protests has been demanded by a network of "For Truth" protest committees. The network wants no reprisals against student participants and wants the National University to rescind the honorary degree it conferred on Mr Kuchma a few weeks ago.

The network is also calling for the resignation of the prosecutor-general and the senior police officials responsible for the arrests of the protesters. Like all of Mr Kuchma's critics, the group wants the president to resign or be impeached.

So far, university administrators have tended to distance themselves from the protests. During one demonstration, university rector Viktor Skopenko said that if protesters were indeed seeking "For Truth", they should do so on the other side of the street and not disturb those who were trying to find it in classrooms.

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