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Communists stage anti-Yushchenko show


DONETSK, February 16 (RIA Novosti) - Communist party activists staged a demonstration in the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Monday in protest against pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.

Some 1,500 activists from industrial, mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions erected a collection box in front of the city and regional administration buildings to gather money "to send the president and his family to America."

A huge mock airplane with a slogan reading "Yushchenko, pack your bags for America!" and the president's photograph were placed nearby.

Communists marched across the city center and held a rally protesting against Yushchenko's economic policies, his drive to secure NATO membership for the country, and strongly anti-Russia stance.

Protesters, mainly elderly people, held slogans reading "Down with the president!" "No to NATO," "Patriotism - yes, nationalism - no!" and black balloons with "Fly away, Yushchenko!"

"We must not be afraid of repression, as the starving and ailing nation has nothing to be afraid of already," a lawmaker and the leader of the Communist Party's Donetsk branch, Mykola Kravchenko, told the rally.

Kravchenko said demonstrations had already taken place in several other cities and would be held in Kiev, where a picket near the presidential administration building was planned. He urged other political forces to join in.

Ukraine has been hard hit by the current global financial crisis mainly over falling steel prices and local banking problems. Industries have been laying off workers, and wages have fallen sharply in the country for the first time in a decade. The opposition has also blamed authorities for policies that led to a sharp rise in Russian gas prices that will further cause misery for the country's industries.

Opinion surveys have consistently shown that more than half of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership.

Ukraine's bid to join NATO was derailed by West European powers led by Germany and France in early December during a meeting of foreign ministers from the military alliance's member states. Ukraine has received strong U.S. backing for its bid from the outgoing Bush administration.

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