Ukrainian anti-government activists battled police in the capital, Kiev, for a second night as new laws to subdue demonstrations took effect today.
Demonstrators yesterday bombarded police with projectiles including Molotov cocktails using a makeshift catapult. Police, firing rubber bullets and smoke bombs, dismantled the wooden contraption at about 4 a.m., with 32 protesters detained, Interfax news service reported. The government’s official newspaper published laws passed by pro-Yanukovych lawmakers on Jan. 16 to restrict protesters’ activities, enacting the measures that sparked the latest clashes, Interfax said.
Two months of protests intensified Jan. 19 as demonstrations turned violent, with police cars set alight and more than 200 people injured. President Viktor Yanukovych’s opponents have held out on Kiev’s Independence Square as rallies against his snub of a European Union cooperation deal got a boost from police crackdowns in November and December.
The bill was the “main trigger” for the violence, Otilia Dhand, vice president at Teneo Intelligence, said yesterday in a note. “A more radicalized group of protesters now calls ’to act rather than talk’ and this new attitude increases the likelihood of further clashes in the coming days.”
The yield on Ukrainian government bonds due 2023 rose 5 basis points to 8.37 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The cost to protect the nation’s debt against non-payment using five-year credit-default swaps increased 25 basis points to 721.
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 a street on the way, setting several on fire.
More than 100,000 people attended the Jan. 19 rally, local TV reported. About 2,000 were on Independence Square yesterday, while another 6,000 were on Hrushevskogo Street, the hub of the violence, the UNIAN and RBC news services said. Police said about 500 people were attacking them on that street, where protesters built barricades using burned-out buses.
More than 100 protesters have sought medical help and 42 were hospitalized after the first night of clashes, the Kiev City Council said. The Interior Ministry said 119 police officers were injured and 80 were hospitalized. The clashes are the first since Dec. 1, when at least 109 people were hospitalized. Police also invaded the protesters’ camp on Dec. 11 before withdrawing.
Yanukovych said Jan. 19 that he’d set up a commission to resolve the crisis. While he said yesterday in a statement that he understood why people had taken to the streets, he pledged to use “all legal means” to quell the unrest.
The opposition complained that no talks had been held as protesters maintained demands for snap elections.
“All responsibility for further tensions in the country is on Yanukovych,” said UDAR party leader Vitali Klitschko, who met with the president Jan. 19. “Today Yanukovych put himself above talks and turned talks into time wasting. He showed again that he’s not going to listen to people’s demands.”
Western politicians said the situation may persist as Yanukovych prepares to seek re-election next March, laying blame for the escalation with the authorities.
The heightened tensions are a “direct consequence” of the government failing to acknowledge the “legitimate grievances” of its people, according to Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
“We urge the government of Ukraine to take steps that represent a better way forward for Ukraine, including repeal of the anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days and withdrawing the riot police from downtown Kiev,” she said in a statement posted on the website of the U.S. embassy to Ukraine. The U.S will “continue to consider additional steps -- including sanctions -- in response to the use of violence.”
Ukraine, a nation of 45 million people and a key Russian natural gas pipeline transit hub to the West, is struggling with its third recession since 2008 and dwindling foreign reserves. Yanukovych last month obtained a $15 billion Russian bailout and a cut in the price of imported natural gas, which further enraged pro-Western activists.
The latest clashes erupted after Pro-Yanukovych lawmakers passed legislation Jan. 16 to restrict protesters’ activities. Yanukovych signed the bill the next day, ignoring international calls to veto it. The opposition Svoboda party said yesterday it had seen an advance copy of the publication, expecting the laws to be enacted tomorrow.
Under the new rules, 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.
The EU said yesterday in a statement that the laws “would significantly restrict the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights of association, media and the press,” calling on the authorities “to ensure that these developments are reversed.”
The Interior Ministry said on its website that it’s pursuing criminal proceedings linked to the public disorder, with protesters facing as long as 15 years in prison. Thirty-one demonstrators were detained last night, it said.
“The authorities have announced a war on Ukraine and their acts led to military actions in central Kiev,” Klitschko said yesterday in an address to his countrymen. “I call on all citizens and patriots to protect their country and their future.”