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Thursday January 16, 2014 MYT 12:30:02 AM
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Pro-European integration protesters hold a rally in Independence square in central Kiev, December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev
KIEV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian court published on Wednesday a ban on protests in central Kiev, boosting opposition fears of a crackdown on rallies where hundreds of thousands have demonstrated against President Viktor Yanukovich.
Protests broke out in late November after Yanukovich spurned an EU free trade deal in favour of boosting ties with Ukraine's former Soviet master Russia. At least 50,000 marched on Sunday, reviving the movement after a Christmas and New Year lull.
At their height, weekly protests against Yanukovich rallied hundreds of thousands of people. There are still tents for protesters on Independence Square in central Kiev and a stage for opposition leaders to address the crowd.
The ban, decided on January 6 but only issued now, runs from January 8 to March 8 and defines a mass protest as "an event using loudspeakers.... posters, putting up of tents, stages or curtains."
The court did not explain the delay in publishing the ban but opposition activists saw it as the sign of a tougher line to come.
"We believe that it is a fact of preparation for... repressions against peaceful activists across the country," said a statement from the opposition party UDAR led by former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
In early December, a violent crackdown by riot police of a student demonstration in Independence Square accelerated protests across the former Soviet republic.
(Reporting By Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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