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Government supporters in Ukraine use gay rights as tactic

A policeman guarded the Ukrainian Parliament as supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych stood in the background.

AP

A policeman guarded the Ukrainian Parliament as supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych stood in the background.

KIEV, Ukraine — Pro-government demonstrators deployed a new tactic Friday to counter protests in favor of European integration, marching through the capital, Kiev, to oppose homosexuality, which they said would accompany a greater European Union role in Ukrainian affairs.

Carrying religious icons and singing hymns, the group of about 1,000 Orthodox Christian supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych filed out of a monastery and marched to a city park.

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Marchers said they favored allegiance to Russia rather than Europe because Russia more closely matches the cultural and religious heritage of Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union. They intend to draw attention to what they characterize as overly liberal European social values, they said.

The protesters set off from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, a monastery controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate, which is subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church and is one of three denominations of Eastern Orthodoxy in Ukraine. The Kyivan Patriarchate of Ukraine, in contrast, has supported the pro-European demonstrators and has allowed many to sleep in churches.

“We are for unity with our brothers in Russia and Belarus,” said Nadezhda A. Kiselyova, 60, a retiree walking in the anti-Europe march Friday, who had an Orthodox icon pinned to the front of her coat.

“We are against the spiritual expansion of the West,” said another protester, Andrei A. Shyropov, a teacher. “We are against the Euro Sodom,” he continued, using a phrase rhyming with and mocking the name the supporters of European integration have given to their movement, the Euromaidan, which means “Eurosquare” in Ukrainian.

Since Yanukovych declined to sign a far-reaching political and free-trade agreements with the EU on Nov. 21, angry Ukrainians have taken to the streets and occupied government buildings, clamoring for the president’s resignation.

It was unclear whether highlighting the divisive issue of homosexuality would gain traction or whether the effort to paint Europe as atheist and degenerate would matter much in a crisis that has been first and foremost about trade and political governance.

Also, the number of pro-government demonstrators was tiny compared with the tens of thousands of pro-Europe Ukrainians who have protested almost daily for two weeks.

Valentin B. Lukyanik, an organizer of the march Friday, said the economic benefits of European trade were outweighed by “the expansion of European values that destroy the family.”

In neighboring Russia, state-controlled television, which can also be viewed in parts of Ukraine, has put the spotlight on European liberalism in the context of the Ukraine crisis by broadcasting clips of a Swedish television show intended to explain bodily functions to children.

After showing excerpts, the Russian host, Dmitri Kiselev, said the show explained why “early sex is the norm” in Sweden, and then concluded, “There you have European values in all their glory.”

A few blocks away from the march Friday, a group of the pro-Europe demonstrators sallied out from the central square that has become their base to picket the office of the prosecutor general. Their aim was to draw attention to the arrests of nine protesters after a clash with the police over the weekend.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, Marharyta Volkova, pointed out in a telephone interview that investigators had also opened three criminal cases into police abuse, including two investigations into the beatings of journalists by the police at rallies last weekend.

The imprisoned former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, ended a 12-day hunger strike Friday, according to her spokeswoman. Tymoshenko’s daughter, Evgenia, conveyed the news after a meeting in prison. Tymoshenko, who has been imprisoned for two years, ended her hunger strike because protesters had implored her to do so, saying they needed her healthy to aid their cause. the spokeswoman said. She was a leader of the 2004-05 uprising known as the Orange Revolution.

Opposition leaders proposed Friday that European officials help negotiate an end to the protests by mediating negotiations with the government.

Yuri V. Lutsenko, a former minister of interior and organizer of the demonstrations, said at a news conference that opposition leaders, together with several Ukrainian cultural figures, would send a letter requesting mediation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and European ambassadors in Kiev.

The first vice prime minister of Ukraine, Sergei Arbuzov, backpedaled on a previous statement suggesting that the government would be willing to discuss holding early parliamentary elections as a resolution to the crisis.

Arbuzov told a television station Thursday evening that his words had been “turned around” to suggest that he supported an early vote when the government in fact had no intention of changing the scheduled elections.

“I don’t see any sense in it,” he said.

He spoke as a senior U.S. official, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, on Thursday urged all sides in the Ukrainian crisis to work together to find a solution that would “meet the aspirations of its people” but to do so through peaceful and lawful means.

Nuland’s message has forced the protest leaders to confront the likelihood that they will be unable to oust Yanukovych, as they lack the legal means to compel the government to hold new elections or to begin impeachment procedures.

Yanukovych met with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi, Russia, later Friday. The two discussed a planned agreement on a strategic partnership that would resolve “contradictions in our trade and economic systems,” Ukraine’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, told Russian state television, providing few details.

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