Ukraine protest speaker urges Jewish, Muslim tycoons to use influence

(JTA) — A speaker at the Ukrainian opposition’s main protest encampment in Kiev demanded that some of his country’s leading Jewish and Muslim business tycoons use their influence over the country’s president.

The unidentified speaker onstage, who said he was Muslim, explicitly referenced the Muslim and Jewish backgrounds of several of the businessmen in urging them to intervene with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The speech was given on a stage surrounded by burning barricades, which has been continuously occupied by an array of protest speakers, musical performers and opposition politicians since the outbreak of severe violence in Kiev on Tuesday.

Kiev’s Independence Square is considered the epicenter of the protest movement and is currently the site of fighting between police forces and protesters.

“I wish to address the oligarchs: Akhmetov, you are a Muslim,” the speaker, who identified himself as a Muslim, began, referring to Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov. Then addressing Ihor Kolomoyskyi, Victor Pinchuk and David Zhvania, the speaker continued, “You practice Judaism. In the holy synagogue, you have seats with placards. And you, today, are the only people who have access to Yanukovych. In another week, your businesses, which you have earned in this land through the work of this people, will fall. And if he doesn’t listen to you, present him, as the chief commander of the armed forces, with a gun.”

Ukrainian sources said that the speech seemed to imply that businessmen should encourage the embattled president to commit suicide.

Kolomoyskyi, Pinchuk and Zhvania have been allied with opposition politicians. Pinchuk in particular has strongly supported close ties between Ukraine and the European Union. The current conflict began after Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with the EU in favor of entering a Russia-led customs union.

Kolomoyskyi was perceived to be a central donor to opposition politician Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR Party in the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, according to public research organization Center for Eastern Studies.

Pinchuk told the Financial Times that the movement “gives me great optimism regarding the future of our country.”

As the violence continues, Ukrainians running the gamut of the political spectrum are participating in the sprawling movement identified with the square, known colloquially as EuroMaidan. Anti-Semitism has been spotted as part of the protest movement, and the participation of the right-wing Svoboda (Freedom) party has evoked concern among Jewish leaders.

Reports from Independence Square are indicating 75 to 100 deaths as of Thursday afternoon, NPR News reported.

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