Ukraine’s anti-government protests claimed their first victims as police were granted new powers to tackle demonstrators.
Two bodies with gunshot wounds were found at a medical point set up by activists, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said. The opposition later said five had died. After three nights of violence left about 2,000 people injured, the U.S. said it would revoke the visas of persons linked to violence last year, while the opposition urged a national strike as talks with the government yielded no progress.
“I am extremely concerned about the dramatic developments in Ukraine and the reports of several deaths in Kiev,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an e-mailed statement. “It is urgent that all parties engage in a real dialogue, show restraint and avoid any further escalation.”
President Viktor Yanukovych is struggling to stem rallies against his November snub of a European Union cooperation deal, with police crackdowns fanning people’s anger. Anti-protest legislation passed last week backfired by turning a Jan. 19 demonstration violent. The situation threatens to spiral out of the authorities’ control, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.
The yield on Ukrainian government bonds due 2023 extended a three-day advance, surging 37 basis points to 8.979 percent as of 10:23 p.m. in Kiev, the highest level since Jan. 3, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The cost to protect the nation’s debt against non-payment using five-year credit-default swaps jumped 30 basis points to 750.
As activists gathered for a 6 p.m. rally at Independence Square, the government approved temporary security measures for the police, allowing officers to use water cannons in sub-zero temperatures and limit public access, including traffic.
More than 50,000 turned out at the square, the RBC news service reported.
During the day, protesters near parliament continued to hurl Molotov cocktails and set tires on fire to create black smoke and complicate police movements. They were met by rubber bullets, smoke bombs and stun grenades, while police also deployed armored vehicles. More than 70 people have been detained, Interior Ministry said.
It’s unclear whether the fatal wounds resulted from live rounds or rubber bullets, a Kiev police representative said by phone. One of the deceased was Serhiy Nigoyan, a 21-year-old Armenian with Ukrainian citizenship, prosecutors said. The other was Mikhail Zhyzneuski from Belarus, Radio Liberty reported.
Reports that a 22-year-old died in hospital after being beaten and falling are being probed, the Interior Ministry said. More than 1,700 activists have been injured, according to opposition, while the Interior Ministry said 195 policemen have sought medical help.
As EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called for “genuine” talks to end the crisis, Yanukovych met opposition leaders including Vitali Klitschko for more than three hours today, according to a statement on the president’s website.
Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he’s maintaining demands for snap elections and the repeal of the anti-protest legislation. Negotiations over a “peaceful solution” will resume tomorrow, Justice Minister Olena Lukash told reporters.
“Yanukovych didn’t answer our demand for early elections,” Klitschko, an ex-heavyweight boxing champion who heads the UDAR party, told the crowd at Independence Square. “We will do everything possible to avoid more bloodshed.” He later urged a warning strike across the country tomorrow in a show of strength of the opposition, according to UDAR’s website.
The U.S. urged all sides to stop the violence, criticizing the government for “failure to engage in real dialogue and the passage of anti-democratic legislation,” according to and e-mailed statement from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Aggressive actions by members of nationalist group Pravy Sektor also are unacceptable, she said.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said this morning that Ukraine won’t listen to demands delivered by extremists, accusing protesters of provoking police force in order to blame the authorities for casualties. He said police near parliament weren’t firing live rounds and praised officers professionalism.
“We are genuinely concerned about where these developments are taking Ukraine and will continue following closely these developments, as well as assessing possible actions by the EU and consequences for our relations,” European Commission President Jose Barroso said in a statement from Brussels.
The remarks are beyond the EU’s usual rhetorical condemnations. Sanctions available to the 28-member bloc include denying visas to suspected human-rights violators and freezing their assets. The EU has used that tool against regime officials in Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbor.
Polish Premier Donald Tusk recommended “caution” on sanctions, saying such tactics hadn’t been effective elsewhere.
Yanukovych has pledged to use “all legal means” to quell the unrest. Justice Minister Olena Lukash pledged “inevitable punishment” for lawbreakers.
The latest clashes began when protesters who’d gathered on Independence Square for an eighth Sunday tried to march on the parliament building about 500 meters (1,640 feet) away. People wearing orange helmets attacked buses used by police to block nearby Hrushevskogo Street, setting several on fire. More than 100,000 people attended the Jan. 19 rally, local TV reported.
Under the new anti-protest laws, which came into force today, people wearing masks or helmets during protests or erecting tents risk arrest and anyone blocking state buildings can be imprisoned for five years.
Drivers of cars traveling in convoys of five or more face fines and confiscation of their driving licenses after activists arranged mass outings to the homes of officials including Yanukovych.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule is scheduled to visit Kiev for two days starting Jan. 24 to discuss the recent developments.
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