Ukraine unions protest Kiev city pay cuts, utility price hikes

More than 2,000 Ukrainian teachers, small business owners, and union members marched in the capital Kiev on Thursday to protest pay cuts and utility price hikes, dpa reported.

The demonstration organized by an alliance of pro-market political parties took place in front of the city hall to call for the reversal of recently-enacted cost-saving measures, and the sacking of Kiev mayor Leonid Chernovetsky.

The protestors and their 12 buses - parked on the road - brought traffic on Kiev's main Khreschatyk street to a complete halt.

Police presence was heavy, with more than 300 uniformed officers attempting to control the crowd, and dozens more held in reserve in side streets.

While around 2,000 people appeared to be taking an active part in the protest, at least 3,000 more were in the vicinity as onlookers or pedestrians attempting to make their way through the crowds.

Fist fights broke out as Chernovetsky supporters attempted to force their way into city hall, and were opposed by police using fists and boots repelled the push.

Vitali Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion and member of the Kiev city council, said he had led a demonstration inside the city hall, calling for a meeting with Chernovetsky.

Chernovetsky, a banking tycoon proud of his success at wringing maximum profit from his businesses, has in recent weeks enacted a host of measures aimed at covering a deficit in the city budget caused by falling tax revenues.

His belt-tightening policies have heavily affected Kiev's relatively wide middle class. Among the most unpopular of Chernovetsky's measures have been the scrapping of free medical care in city clinics, the closure of some schools and kindergartens, a reduction in the actual temperature of heating provided to homes and businesses coupled with a hike in heating bills, and a quadrupling in the cost of public transport.

An additional cash-generating step proposed by Chernovetsky, and scheduled to be discussed by the Kiev city council on Thursday, outlines the conversion of city-run youth clubs and sports schools from a free to a pay basis.

Banners carried by protestors read, among others, "Mayor! Don't make money off our children!" and "Our children shouldn't play in the streets!"

Much of Chernovetsky's political base, pensioners and evangelical Christians living in Kiev's lower-cost districts have been relatively unaffected by the hikes as they consume less city-provided services, or enjoy discounts because of their lower-income status.

He is highly unpopular with middle-income Kievites, who see him as a populist politician unwilling to bring reliable city services.

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