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September 20, 2017

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Ukraine protests to continue despite curbs

KIEV--Pro-EU Ukrainians were reinforcing barricades in Kiev on Saturday ahead of a new mass rally, defying President Viktor Yanukovych after he approved strict curbs on protests that caused an outcry in the West.

In a fresh sign of mounting tensions, the president dismissed his chief of staff and will skip this week's economic forum in Davos.

Yanukovych, who has been wrestling with nearly two months of opposition protests, signed off Friday on tough new laws introducing jail time and corrective labor for those occupying public buildings or disseminating slander on the Internet.

But the tough curbs are expected reinvigorate the pro-EU opposition movement, which is pressing ahead with plans to hold a fresh rally Sunday, reinforcing their barricades in the center of the capital with barbed wire.

Critics say Yanukovych has followed in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pushed through similar legislation after returning to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012 following huge protests against his decade-long rule.

"There is only one question left after newly signed laws — quo vadis (where are you going) Mr. President?" EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule asked Yanukovych on Twitter.

The United States and European Union have called the laws anti-democratic, while the opposition accused the president of seeking to install a "dictatorship."

At the height of the protests last month hundreds of thousands took to the streets after Yanukovych's decision to ditch political and trade agreements with the EU under pressure from Russia.

The rallies have since dwindled, but the opposition movement — led by three political leaders including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko — maintains a protest camp on Kiev's central Independence Square.

"We are returning to Stalinism. When these laws are enforced the situation in Ukraine will be worse than in Russia or Belarus," Leonid Tertichny from the central Cherkasy region said at the protest camp.

"But these laws have not intimidated us, they mobilized people. The protests will continue."

Olena Oshchepovska said the new laws meant the government was afraid of its own people.

"The authorities are offering us to follow the path of Belarus but we will never agree to that," said the protester from the western city of Rivne.

'Regime likely to increase repression'

In a fresh sign of a mounting crisis, Yanukovych, who in previous years attended the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, will skip the event this week.

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