Thousands protest outside Ukraine President's residence

NOVI PETRIVTSI, Ukraine (AFP) - Thousands of Ukrainians on Sunday for the first time staged a major protest outside the private residence of President Viktor Yanukovych, which has become a symbol of alleged corruption by the elite.

The protesters had made their way to Mr Yanukovych's Mezhygirya residence on the banks of the Dnipro river some 15km outside of Kiev by bicycle, car and minibuses adorned with Ukrainian flags, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

They were kept at a distance of around 300m from the heavily guarded residence by a vast cordon of anti-riot officers who blocked the path of the protesters with police buses and trucks.

The protesters carried a coffin to symbolise what they hope is the end of Yanukovych's political career and chanted "Kiev rise up!" and "Get Out Yanukovych". There were no initial reports of any clashes.

Ukraine's opposition and media have long accused Mr Yanukovych of financing Mezhygirya with funds obtained improperly by him and his family and have said its luxury is wholly inappropriate in a country going through an economic crisis.

Investigations into the financing and construction of the residence were a prime part of the work of journalist Tetyana Chornovol, who is in hospital after being brutally beaten last week.

The leader of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko stood on a minibus to denounce the "corruption" of the elite in front of the crowds.

"The authorities should not think that they can hide behind fences and not hear the people. They see how many of us there are and we do not have fear," said Klitschko.

"The next time there are going to be a million of us," he said.

The presidency has always vehemently denied that Mr Yanukovych has behaved improperly over the construction and financing of the residence.

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