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New Kiev mayor Klitschko vows to dismantle protest camp

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kiev's future mayor and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko promised Monday to dismantle the iconic protest encampment that had helped oust a pro-Russian leader but now clogs traffic and draws public complaints.

Klitschko said a day after proclaiming victory in elections that also handed the presidency to his ally Petro Poroshenko -- a chocolate baron who backs stronger EU ties -- that the protests had achieved their goals and it was time for everyone to go home.

"I am firmly convinced that the Maidan's main mission has been accomplished. We got rid of the dictator," Klitschko said in reference to ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

"I am certain that the barricades have fulfilled their role for today and should be dismantled," he said at a joint press appearance with Poroshenko.

The EuroMaidan protest movement -- named for the Western aspirations of those who gathered on Kiev's vast Independence Square that is known locally as the Maidan -- erupted in November over Yanukovych's decision to ditch a historic EU agreement in favour of closer Kremlin ties.

Three days of carnage in February that claimed nearly 100 lives forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia and led to a presidential ballot whose victory Poroshenko claimed Sunday.

The heart of Kiev remains clogged with makeshift barricades and green army tents that the more hardcore protesters are keeping for they say is "self-defence".

- 'Light at end of tunnel' -

Many locals have begun to complain that the heart of the city was now filled with drunks and criminals who spoil Kiev's image and complicate the lives of those trying to get on time to work.

"We want (the new government) to finally remove this debris. We are tired of it," said a Kiev resident named Anton as he strolled past wood-burning smoke filled square on a gloriously sunny spring capital in the now peaceful city of 2.8 million people.

"It is time for our country to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he added in reference to Ukraine's broader aspirations of stability and wealth.

The camp has also further strained relations with Russia because Moscow still cites a long-abandoned agreement struck with the help of EU and US negotiators in April that calls for a halt to all military operations and the end of protester occupations of buildings and other protest sites.

Ukraine's interim authorities had refused to touch the Maidan for fear of upsetting the very people who brought them to power.

Klitschko seemed careful to treat the Maidan movement's sensibilities with caution and to distance himself as much as possible from the old government's attempt to disperse protesters with the use of clubs and teargas.

He promised to erect a monument to the scores who lost their lives defending Ukraine's European values and stressed that the barricades should only be taken down under mutual consent.

But the former heavyweight champion argued that it was time for Kiev "to gradually resume a normal life".

"This would set a wonderful example for other regions of Ukraine," the 42-year-old said.

zak/txw/cc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140526/new-kiev-mayor-klitschko-vows-dismantle-protest-camp