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Yushchenko Supporters Won’t Disband Camp

January 15, 2005

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ Victorious presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko says it’s time for his supporters who have camped all winter on Kiev’s main street to come in from the cold. Some of them hotly disagree.

The refusal by the protesters to accept Yushchenko’s call Friday for them to disband the tent camp brought an unusual undertone of tension to a mass movement that had been marked by unity and good spirits.

The camp sprang up within hours after the Nov. 21 presidential election to house protesters alleging massive fraud. Viktor Yanukovych, the then-prime minister favored by the Kremlin, was declared the winner of the vote, but the Supreme Court annulled the elections amid fraud allegations.

Yushchenko was declared the winner of the Dec. 26 rerun and, despite Yanukovych’s filing of a massively documented appeal Friday, he is widely expected to be inaugurated this month. The call to disband the camp appeared to underline his confidence, but camp stalwarts were disappointed _ even a bit resentful.

``I was expecting Yushchenko’s gratitude, not a stab in the back,″ said Serhiy Zahailo.

``If they will ignore us, they will ignore all the people whom they ask to defend the liberty and independence of the new Ukraine,″ said one of the camp leaders, Andriy Khomenko, wearing a heavy camouflage-pattern coat inside one of the encampment’s canteen tents.

At its height, the camp was one of the most impressive images of the protest that came to be known as the ``Orange Revolution.″ The rows of tents were neatly placed on wooden pallets lined with insulating plastic foam, stretching for blocks down Khreshchatik Avenue. Its orderliness gave it a sense of permanence that seemed to underline the protesters’ determination.

But in recent weeks, as Yushchenko’s prospects appeared to improve, the camp’s population has dwindled to about 1,000 people, less attention has been given to sanitation and it’s become more of an eyesore than an inspiration.

Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko and pro-Yushchenko lawmaker Roman Besmertny, who was tasked with maintenance of the camp, had repeatedly asked that the tents be removed.

Zahailo and other camp residents say they won’t leave until Yushchenko’s inauguration, which is expected by the end of the month. They say that decision is a demonstration of their loyalty _ and of pride.

``We are the state inside the state, and we are here to show how to be independent, an example for all the rest,″ said resident Svitlana Holomyko.

Khomenko and his comrades this week have tried to revive the camp’s vigor by attracting visitors.

On Thursday they opened a tent gallery dubbed ``Worldwide Orange Festival of Political Culture″ where they exhibited photos from the protests and orange-clad artifacts about the revolution.

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