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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 17:40 GMT
Protesters demand Kuchma resignation
Kiev demonstration, 19 December
The protests have been growing in size
Thousands of people have demonstrated in Ukraine to demand the resignation of the president, who has been accused of involvement in the disappearance of an independent journalist.

The demonstration on Tuesday follows a smaller one on 15 December at which 500 protesters called for the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, the Interior Minister and the head of the Security Service.

Police kept the demonstrators away from the parliament building and from a smaller pro-Kuchma rally, the news agency Itar-Tass reported.

The government and parliament have been embroiled in controversy surrounding the missing journalist for three months.

Incriminating tapes

The leader of the Socialist opposition has claimed he has tapes of Mr Kuchma telling aides that journalist Georgiy Gongadze should be "got rid of".

President Leonid Kuchma
The scandal comes at a bad time for Mr Kuchma
President Kuchma says the tapes are faked and has threatened to sue Socialist leader Oleksander Moroz for defamation.

In early December, a former Kuchma bodyguard announced that he too had material linking the president and his inner circle to the disappearance.

Ukraine's prosecutor-general has questioned both Mr Moroz and Mr Kuchma in connection with the president's accusation of defamation.

Mr Moroz has reportedly said that he is willing to turn his tapes over for independence analysis, but that impartial analysis "is not available in Ukraine".

Independent investigation

The protesters called for an independent investigation into the disappearance of Mr Gongadze, whose online publication Ukrainian Pravda is critical of the government and many leading businessmen.

The missing 31-year-old editor vanished on 16 September.

Georgy Gongadze
Georgy Gongadze vanished in September
Police found a mutilated body two months later; the journalist's wife has identified jewellry found with the corpse as belonging to Mr Gongadze, but there has been no official identification yet.

The results of DNA tests are due by the end of the year, the news agency Interfax reported.

The scandal depletes some of the international goodwill Mr Kuchma earned with last week's official closure of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

And the crisis seems to be coming to a head just as the International Monetary Fund decides whether to release a frozen $2.5bn lending package.

See also:

29 Nov 00 | Media reports
Death, lies and audiotape - Ukraine-style
19 Sep 00 | Media reports
Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
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