Riots flared up again in Ukraine’s capital as the interior minister said peaceful efforts to end the two-month-old unrest were useless and the opposition reported another death before heading into new talks.
After a day of calm, clashes resumed shortly after 10 p.m. yesterday near parliament as demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and police deployed rubber bullets and stun grenades. Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko said the opposition had lost control over radical activists and warned peaceful protesters to vacate central Kiev or be deemed extremists. The Svoboda party said an activist shot Jan. 22 had died.
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. Four days of clashes left as many as six dead and 1,250 injured as laws to stem the protests took effect and police got special powers to quell the demonstrations. Opposition politicians have been frustrated in their demands for snap elections.
“The situation in Ukraine is very explosive,” billionaire ex-Economy Minister Petro Poroshenko, who backs the protest movement, said yesterday from Davos, Switzerland. “If the government behaves as if nothing is happening in the country, it will considerably complicate the search for a way out.”
The Interior Ministry said three riot-police officers kidnapped by activists had been freed. One is in a hospital with stab wounds, while the other two have been tortured, it said in a statement. Protest leader Ihor Zhdanov denied activists had kidnapped anyone, TV5 reported.
“The events in Ukraine’s capital during recent days show that our attempts to resolve the conflict in a peaceful way are useless,” Zakharchenko. “Our calls haven’t been heard. The truce has been broken.”
The use of force is unacceptable, Ukraine’s richest person, Rinat Akhmetov, said in a statement. The billionaire, who has a fortune of $12.3 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, warned of the “real threat” of the country becoming divided and urged talks to end the crisis.
After both sides called yesterday for foreign mediation to help find a resolution to the crisis, opposition leaders met again today with Yanukovych, claiming the president plans to initiate a state of emergency. Officials including prime Minister Mykola Azarov have denied such plans in recent days.
“Of course Yanukovych would like to enforce martial law, but I don’t think it will happen because the army won’t go against the people,” said Volodymyr, 46, who arrived today at the protest camp on Independence Square and declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal. “The police also understands this, even though they have to follow his orders. They are Ukrainians like all of us -- they also live here and also get these beggar’s wages.”
Activists in Kiev, who seized the Agriculture Ministry yesterday, took over five floors and the basement of the Energy Ministry today, the Unian news service reported.
Protesters are also occupying buildings of governors picked by Yanukovych in the western cities of Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytskyi and Chernihiv and are targeting administrative offices in at least five more of the nation’s 24 regions, smashing their way in when police offered resistance, TV5 reported.
Police have detained 58 people in the Cherkasy region for attempting a takeover, according to the Interior Ministry. European Union justice chief Viviane Reding warned yesterday of the risk of civil war, CNBC reported.
As the unrest spreads, Yanukovych made personnel changes. He named Andriy Klyuyev as head of his administration, promoting the Security Council chief protesters have called on to resign after demonstrators were injured in 2013 clashes with police. The president also appointed Andriy Portnov as first deputy head of his administration.
While Yanukovych ceded some ground, promising a cabinet shuffle and changes to the anti-rally bill at an emergency parliament session called for Jan. 28, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told reporters later that protesters won’t be satisfied until the president resigns.
The protests that have gripped Kiev since last year escalated this week with the first deaths. Police are investigating the discovery Jan. 22 of two bodies with gunshot wounds. Live ammunition caused the deaths, the Interior Ministry said Jan. 23, denying its officers fired the bullets. The activist who died today had been shot on Hrushevskogo Street, the site of the heaviest fighting, according to a statement on Svoboda’s website.
The opposition says six people have died, including one who fell off a colonnade after being beaten and another who was identified by his relatives after police found a body outside Kiev with signs of torture. A thousand people have been injured, while an instigator of car protests that targeted officials’ homes is missing, activists say.
About 250 policemen have sought medical help, the Interior Ministry said. An officer was found shortly before midnight yesterday in Kiev with a gunshot wound to the head, the ministry said on its website. Protesters denied involvement.
EU officials, who’ve said they may reassess their relations with Ukraine after the violence, are seeking to broker a peace deal in Kiev. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule met Yanukovych and opposition yesterday, while Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, is due. Jan. 30-31.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he discussed Ukraine with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Montreux, Switzerland, calling on his American counterpart not to interfere, according to the transcript of a TV interview on the ministry website.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said today that Yanukovych must end the violence and “constructively” engage the political opposition.
“The deteriorating situation in Ukraine is growing more worrisome by the day, he said in a statement on the website of the U.S. embassy in Kiev. ‘‘The world is watching and a peaceful resolution remains the only allowable outcome.’’
To contact the reporters on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org; Ott Ummelas in Kiev at email@example.com; Volodymyr Verbyany in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at email@example.com