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ODESSA, December 14, 21:11 /ITAR-TASS/. Thousands of people in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa rallied on Saturday, December 14, in support of their country’s accession to the Customs Union created by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The demonstrators walked along the streets in what they called a March for Alternative, chanting “Odessa for the Customs Union,” “Away with the Orange Plague,” “We take no orders from the West” and “No to Eurohysteria!” They urged the Ukrainian authorities to resolve disputable issues concerning European integration in a referendum.
“This rally was initiated by the people of Odessa, and the authorities have nothing to do with it. There is no need to go to Kiev to state one’s position,” one of the rally organisers told ITAR-TASS.
He said thousands of people from Odessa had travelled to Kiev on Friday, December 13, to take part in an anti-Maidan protest organised by the ruling Party of Regions.
Participating in the march were also representatives of the Rodina (Motherland) party, the Communist Party, Youth Unity, Vitrenko Bloc, and veterans’ organisations. They adopted a resolution which says that “the course towards European integration assumed by the authorities runs counter to the historical and cultural traditions of Ukraine and severs ties with other brotherly states. Odessa is making its choice today: we are for a stable and democratic state, we are for friendship with Russia, for the Customs Union, and for the Eurasian alternative for Ukraine.”
Attempts to organise rallies in support of the Ukrainian opposition have failed in Odessa.
The public movement Ukrainian Choice earlier issued a strong call for Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union.
The call was supported by the movement’s allies in several Ukrainian cities where they made the decision to ask the president, government and parliament to “protect the choice of the majority of Ukrainian citizens, fulfill their will and join the Customs Union.”
“Ukraine should defend an economically beneficial vector of foreign economic integration. And we will exert every effort to do that,” the movement’s activists in different parts of the country said.
In an address to the activists, movement leader Viktor Medvedchuk said that “the process of signing the enslaving agreement [with the European Union] has been stopped, but this is only the first step which cannot help all the problems that have piled up in society because Ukraine has no real mechanism of people’s control over government officials and politicians.”
He believes that the next step should be Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union.
A petition in support of the country’s accession to the Customs Union signed by more than 18,000 people and sent to the presidential office in early November said, in part: “We citizens of Ukraine are signing this appeal to you as President and urge you to fulfill the will of the people of Ukraine and join the Customs Union within the Eurasian Economic Community as its full member.”
The document voiced concern about “the direst economic situation in the country, mass unemployment, degradation of the health and education systems, a demography catastrophe, the outflow of labour and the absence of future for young people.”
“Our country needs to be rescued! We believe this can be done only by leading Ukraine to join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan,” the appeal said.
The Communist Party of Ukraine has proposed holding a nationwide referendum on the country’s accession to the Customs Union.
“Representatives of oligarchic clans who hold positions of power now will have to take into account the opinion of the people and we say this publicly,” party leader Pyotr Simonenko said.
If the referendum initiative is registered, the group that put it forth can start collecting signatures on the next day and has to collect three million signatures or more within 40 days, with at least 100,000 signatures to be collected in no less than two-thirds of the regions (18 regions).
“If all these requirements are met, the Central Election Commission will have to submit the relevant appeal to the president of Ukraine for calling a referendum on this people's initiative. If the head of state makes such a decision, the Central Election Commission has to name the date of the referendum on the second day after the entry into force of the presidential decree,” CEC member Yuri Donchenko said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said his country would continue to move along the road of European integration but would also develop relations with Russia and other Eurasian community countries.
Customs Union countries are key trade partners for Ukraine. In 2012, trade turnover with them reached 63 billion U.S. dollars, making up 36 percent of Ukraine's overall export.
Yanukovich said that Ukraine was looking for a model of cooperation with the Customs Union.
“We are interested in this. In fact, the Customs Union countries are our strategic partners,” the president said and stressed that Russia is a “key country in the Customs Union.”
Ukraine cannot ignore the existence of the Customs Union and should work out acceptable forms of cooperation with it, Yanukovich said.
However he reiterated once again that European integration was a priority for Ukraine.