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Orthodox Christians demonstrate in support of Yanukovych in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- There were dueling protests Friday in Kiev as Orthodox Christians demonstrated in support of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Anti-government protesters blocked the entrance to the administration building, Radio Svoboda reported. About 1,000 people set up barricades near Independence Square, having spent the night there in anticipation of police interference.

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Thousands have taken to the streets since Nov. 21, when Yanukovych, apparently bowing to pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, refused to sign an agreement for closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union. Friday's anti-Europe demonstration was small in comparison to those opposing the president, the New York Times reported.

The Orthodox group said Russia's values are closer to those in the Ukraine than those of what one man called "Euro Sodom," a play on the name of a pro-Europe group, Euromaidan or Eurosquare. The march began at a monastery belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate and protesters carried religious icons and sang hymns.

"We are against the spiritual expansion of the West," Andrei A. Shyropov, a teacher, told the Times.

Ukraine, for many years part of the Soviet Union, has a complicated religious structure with three Orthodox groups. The Moscow Patriarchate says Ukraine should remain free of the EU, while the Kyvian Patriarchate supports closer ties.

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Outside the president's offices, police made no effort to disperse the anti-Yanukovych crowd but soldiers prevented additional protesters from entering the area near the president's offices, RIA Novosti said. Demonstration leaders appealed to protesters not to attack the troops.

"They are not Berkut [riot police], these are interior troops, they are the same people as us," one protest organizer said.

Protesters called for a mass demonstration Sunday in the city center, Radio Svoboda reported.

Demonstrators have occupied public buildings and a landmark plaza in Kiev since late last month when Yanukovych reversed course and decided not to sign the political and trade agreements with the EU, saying they would hurt Ukraine's economy. Instead, he said, he'd pursue building relationships with Russia.

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