Ukraine protesters set up tent camp outside parliament

2 min

Kiev (AFP)

Hundreds of peaceful Ukrainian protesters gathered on Wednesday in a tent camp outside parliament during a mass protest demanding a more forceful fight against government graft.

Tuesday's rally in Kiev involved nearly 5,000 people and saw a call by former Georgian leader and current Ukrainian opposition party chief Mikheil Saakashvili for President Petro Poroshenko to quit.

The activists also set up several dozen tents in a park and street that run alongside the parliament -- a signal that they intended to stay put until their demands were met.

An AFP reporter saw several hundred protesters drinking tea and chatting outside parliament on Wednesday watched by large numbers of police.

But both the national police chief Sergiy Knyazev and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said they had no intention of touching the tents.

Lutsenko called the right to protest "one of the main achievements" of the February 2014 pro-EU revolution that toppled Kiev's Kremlin-backed regime and pulled Ukraine out of Russia's historic orbit.

Large city camps featured prominently during that revolt as well as one in 2004 that forced the authorities to annul the results of a disputed election won by the Kremlin-backed candidate.

The protesters have issued three major demands for President Petro Poroshenko and his government.

They include stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution and launching an anti-corruption court that Kiev's lenders at the IMF have said would be a "benchmark" of Ukraine's progress toward Western standards.

A third called for changes to the electoral system that would help independent lawmakers gain seats.

Poroshenko appeared to respond to the mounting political pressure by introducing a bill on Tuesday that would eliminate lawmakers' immunity starting in 2020.

But protest organisers dismissed that as a token gesture that needlessly delayed the long-promised change.

Ukrainian parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy said lawmakers would debate the immunity and election law issues on Thursday.