Correction: Ukraine-Boxing Politician story

In a Dec. 4 story about Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali

Klitschko, The Associated Press erroneously reported that

Klitschko’s wife, Natalia, was beside him when he tried to stop

several hundred radical protesters from storming the president’s

office during a huge protest in Kiev on Sunday. At the time of the

standoff, Natalia was taking part in the peaceful part of the

demonstration at Independence Square about a half-mile away from

the site of the clashes.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Boxing champ turns opposition leader in Ukraine

World boxing champion Klitschko leads Ukraine’s protests, hopes

to become its next president

By MARIA DANILOVA

Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Towering over his fellow protest leaders,

Vitali Klitschko, the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion,

has emerged as Ukraine’s most popular opposition figure and has

ambitions to become its next president.

Thanks to his sports-hero status and reputation as a pro-Western

politician untainted by Ukraine’s frequent corruption scandals, the

6-foot 7-inch Klitschko has surpassed jailed former Prime Minister

Yulia Tymoshenko in opinion polls.

As massive anti-government protests continue to grip Ukraine,

the 42-year-old boxer-turned-politician is urging his countrymen to

continue their fight to turn this ex-Soviet republic into a genuine

Western democracy.

”This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that

demands justice,” Klitschko told 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.”

Dubbed Dr. Ironfist for his prowess in the boxing ring,

Klitschko has scored 45 victories in 47 fights, 41 of them with

knockouts. He has successfully defended his title 11 times, most

recently in September 2012, and plans to have one more bout before

he retires. He still spends several hours a day training.

Now Klitschko must prove that he has as much stamina in the

political arena.

Despite earning a doctorate in sports science, Klitschko has had

to fight a stereotype of being intellectually unfit to run this

economically troubled nation of 46 million.

Having been raised – like many Ukrainians – in a

Russian-speaking family, Klitschko only recently learned Ukrainian

and sometimes struggles to find the right word. Still, he appeals

to many Ukrainians with his air of sincerity and his image as a

handsome tough guy ready to defend his compatriots.

”He is a national hero and comes across as being decent,” said

Andreas Umland, assistant professor of European studies at the Kyiv

Mohyla Academy.

Klitschko was one of only a few opposition politicians who tried

to stop several hundred radical protesters from storming President

Viktor Yanukovych’s office during a demonstration Sunday that drew

hundreds of thousands to the streets of the capital, Kiev.

As the boxer called for peace, the jubilant crowd chanted his

name.

The angry protests were sparked by the president’s abrupt

decision last month to ditch a political and economic treaty with

the 28-nation European Union in favor of closer economic ties with

Russia, which had threatened Ukraine with trade consequences if the

country signed the EU deal.

On Wednesday, his party joined two other opposition parties in

blockading the Ukrainian parliament as part of a nationwide

strike.

The demonstrations in Kiev were galvanized when Yanukovych’s

government sent in riot police with truncheons to break up a small,

peaceful rally in the middle of the night, injuring dozens.

”They took away people’s hope to implement reforms, to change

the situation in the country,” Klitschko told the AP, speaking

inside the parliament building. ”They stole our hope.”

Klitschko made his first foray into politics during the

country’s 2004 Orange Revolution, the mass protests that led to the

annulment of Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted presidential win and

ushered in a pro-Western government. Fresh from a victory in the

ring in the United States, Klitschko flew to Kiev and appeared in

the heart of those protests wearing an orange scarf, the symbol of

the revolution.

Next to him stood his brother, Wladimir Klitschko, now 37,

another heavyweight world boxing champion who is engaged to the

American actress Hayden Panettiere, star of the TV series

”Nashville.”

Vitali Klitschko has three children with his wife, Natalia, a

former model who recently started a singing career.

After two failed attempts to be elected mayor of Kiev, Klitschko

entered national politics last year when his pro-Western Udar party

– Punch in English – finished a strong third in the parliamentary

election, running on a reform and anti-corruption platform. He was

able to capitalize on popular anger with Yanukovych, who quickly

undid many of the democratic victories of the Orange Revolution,

and with voters’ disillusionment with the Orange leaders, now in

opposition, including Tymoshenko.

A year before the 2012 election, Tymoshenko was jailed for abuse

of office, charges the West considers politically motivated.

Klitschko has joined other opposition leaders in campaigning for

the release of Tymoshenko, long Yanukovych’s biggest political

rival.

Klitschko was born in 1971 in Kyrgyzstan, then part of the

Soviet Union, to a school teacher mother and a father whose job as

an army pilot took the family to remote military bases across the

Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

He embraced Western values while training in Germany and the

United States for matches, he says, and wants to bring that mindset

home to Ukraine.

”Those people who are in politics (now) do not make it their

goal to change the country,” Klitschko said. ”They are simply

plundering the country.”

Unlike many Ukrainian politicians – including Tymoshenko – who

are accused of making their fortunes in shady business deals in the

tumultuous post-Soviet era, Klitschko’s millions come from a

transparent source – the boxing ring.

An opinion poll in September predicted he would get 15.5 percent

of the vote in the first round of a presidential election, compared

to Tymoshenko’s 13.2 percent. Yanukovych would get 19 percent, but

he would lose to Klitschko in a runoff, according to the Razumkov

Center survey of 2,010 respondents. It had a margin of error of two

percentage points.

Klitschko’s political star has only risen since then.

In October, he announced he would run for the presidency in

early 2015, even though parliament, dominated by Yanukovych’s

allies, passed a law that sought to bar Klitschko from running on

the grounds that he spent several years in Germany and paid taxes

there.

Klitschko was appalled, calling Ukrainian politics a dirty

business, unlike anything he has seen in boxing.

”It’s impossible to compare them because in boxing there are

rules. In Ukrainian politics, the rules are absent,” Klitschko

said.

Klitschko has kept his two careers separate – never joining

other Ukrainian lawmakers in the frequent brawls that have marred

parliament.

”Physical force plays no role in politics. The power of thought

is much stronger,” Klitschko said.

How good are Ukrainian lawmakers at throwing punches,

anyway?

”If you judge this from the standpoint of (my) profession, they

don’t have any talent,” he said.

Follow Maria Danilova on Twitter at

http://www.twitter.com/mashadanilova