West criticizes Kiev for anti protest legislation
Ukrainian pro-government lawmaker Volodymyr Malyshev, left, wipes blood from
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian leaders came under fire from the West on Friday for passing sweeping anti-protest legislation amid demonstrations against the government that have rocked Kiev for nearly two months.
Despite fistfights and noisy objections from the opposition, the Ukrainian parliament, dominated by President Viktor Yanukovych's loyalists, passed a flurry of bills Thursday that would significantly curb the rights to protest, free speech and the activity of non-governmental organizations.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Friday she is "deeply concerned" by the legislation and called on Yanukovych to revise it.
The bills have yet to be signed by the president, and Yanukovych's office refused to say Friday if he supports them.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin that the decision would "inevitably have consequences for the cooperation with the European Union." He did not give further specifics.
In a statement released late Thursday, the U.S. State Department called the laws "undemocratic" and said they contradict Ukraine's aspiration to a European future.
The demonstrations were sparked by Yanukovych's decision to shelve a long-discussed economic and political treaty with the European Union. Instead, Yanukovych chose to focus on improving ties with Russia and received a pledge of a $15 billion bailout loan from the Kremlin to aid the troubled Ukrainian economy. The protests swelled to hundreds of thousands after police violently dispersed several rallies.
EU Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, who has worked for years to get Ukraine to sign the EU treaty, voiced his disappointment Friday.
"I'm shocked," Fuele told Ukraine's Interfax news agency. "It is deeply disappointing to see such a turn from the European path of Ukraine."
Ukraine's opposition leaders dubbed Thursday's legislation as unconstitutional and called for a big rally on Sunday to protest the move.
AP reporters Frank Jordans contributed to this story from Berlin and John Dahlburg from Brussels.