Vitali Klitschko Looking to KO Ukrainian Government after President Viktor Yanukovych Turns Down EU Deal
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World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko is currently fighting a much different kind battle outside the squared circle these days considering his involvement in the civil unrest that has turned the Ukraine upside down.
Ukrainian voters have taken to the streets after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a proposal that would have given the nation closer ties with the European Union (EU). Yanukovych, who supports the country having stronger relations with Russia than with the EU, fled to China seeking economic assistance to avoid the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, after unrest in the capital city of Kiev. Russia has threatened the Ukraine with economic trade consequences if the county signs the EU deal.
"Those people who are in politics (now) do not make it their goal to change the country," said Klitschko, a member of the Ukraine's parliament. "They are simply plundering the country."
Klitschko - who has aspirations to become the next president of the Ukraine rather than defend his World Heavyweight title, having surpassed jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in recent polls, has been a part of the protests that have rattled the nation, becoming a popular figure among protesters due to his pro-Western political ideology while remaining above the fray of the political corruption scandals that have marred Kiev.
Klitschko has been a voice of reason during the unrest, uniting with anti-Yanukovych allies to prevent protesters from storming the President's office on Sunday and calling for peaceful protests rather than all-out violence.
"This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that demands justice," Klitschko said to the Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. "The people are not defending political interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized country."
Klitschko, who has a doctorate in sports science and is known as "Doctor Ironfist" in the ring, began to get politically involved during the 2004 Orange Revolution, where voters protested Yanukovych's presidential victory over Viktor Yushchenko - who was poisoned during the campaign, disfiguring his face - leading to the annulment of Yanukovych's win.
Klitschko won his parliament seat on pro-Western, political reform, and anti-corruption platforms under the UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform and translates to "Punch" in English) political party, capitalizing on the countries anti-Yanukovych sentiments, who rolled back many of the country's democratic victories after the Orange Revolution, as well as the disenchantment towards Yulia Tymoshenkos' promises to Ukrainian voters.
On Tuesday, Klitschko's UDAR party fell short of the 40 votes needed for a Parliamentary "no confidence" vote against Yanukovych after failing to get the support of the Party of Regions, forcing the heavyweight champion to insists the protests continue.
"They took away people's hope to implement reforms, to change the situation in the country," said Klitschko regarding Yanukovych scuttling the EU's proposal. "They stole our hope."
The last three Ukrainian ex-presidents, Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yushchenko, have all expressed "solidarity" with the peaceful rallies such as the ones Klitschko has been organizing, with thousands gathered at Kiev's Independence Square blocking the government's building. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited protesters on Wednesday telling them that "the gates of the European Union are still open." Westerwelle also met with Arseny Yatsenyuk and Klitschko in a show of support despite the heavyweight champion's lack of experience in the political arena.
"We are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine," said Westerwelle. "We advocate European values and say that the door to the EU remains open. Ukraine should be on board with Europe."
Yanukovych is scrambling for support sending delegates to Moscow, who has invited the Ukraine to join their Customs Union - which consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Yanukovych has also sent delegates to Brussels, Belgium to renew talks with the EU, hoping to quell the protests. EU President Jose Manuel Barroso has agreed to talks with the Ukraine delegation on several aspects of the original agreement but will not open any kind of renegotiation.
"If we had signed, we would have opened our borders and killed our own manufacturers," said Anatoliy Bliznyuk, an official for Mr Yanukovych's Regions Party to Reuters.
While Ukraine's political leadership scrambles throughout the world grasping for help after turning down the EU's offer, Klitschko, who has 45 victories in 47 fights (41 via knockouts) record and has a December 15 deadline to decide if he will make his mandatory title defense, will continue being being a voice for the protesters even if it costs him his boxing career.
"The more I see of Klitschko's deep involvement in politics, the less inclined I am to think he will ever fight again." wrote ESPN.com's boxing writer, Dan Rafael, in his blog.
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