Thousands protest 'political repressions' in Ukraine

Thousands of Ukrainians protested in Kiev Monday against "political repressions" by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych as he flew to Brussels for a key Ukraine-European Union summit.

About five thousand protesters marched through central streets of capital Kiev before assembling on the main square, in a strong response to demonstration appeals by three opposition movements.

Jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna, boxer Vitali Klitschko's Udar, and nationalist party Svoboda had called the protest to rally against the imprisonment of Yanukovych's rivals and urge European integration for Ukraine.

The crowd shouted slogans like "Freedom to Yulia!" and "Out with the gang!" and waved flags and photos of Tymoshenko, an AFP correspondent observed.

"Our slogan is 'Ukraine in Europe, Ukraine without Yanukovych'," one of the leaders of Batkivshchyna, lawmaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, told the crowd.

Kiev's prosecution and incarceration of the 2004 Orange Revolution icon Tymoshenko on abuse of power charges has caused a major deterioration in ties with the West, with Yanukovych accused of abusing the courts to eliminate his chief political foe.

The opposition timed their demonstration to draw attention of European countries to the situation in Ukraine as Yanukovych made his a diplomatic visit to Brussels.

The Ukrainian leader was meeting European officials in a fence-mending summit the EU president Herman Van Rompuy has called a "defining moment", to speak about the country's progress and ask for a much-needed loan to rescue its economy.

Tymoshenko, who was controversially convicted of abuse of power in October 2011, has spent the last nine months in a hospital where she is being treated for back pain.