Anti-government unrest spread from Ukraine’s capital as the government recalled lawmakers from a winter break for an emergency session after weeks of protests claimed their first lives.
Activists yesterday took over the headquarters of governors picked by President Viktor Yanukovych in three cities, marking a widening of the two-month-old protest movement. Parliament will convene Jan. 28 to consider a no-confidence motion against the cabinet and the repeal of laws curbing rallies, opposition leaders said after a four-hour meeting with the president.
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 and nights of clashes left as many as five people dead and about 1,250 injured as legislation to stem the protests took effect this week and the government gave the police special powers to quell the demonstrations.
“The prospect for a compromise deal between the government and protesters in central Kiev has fallen in the past few days,” Alex Brideau, senior analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington, said yesterday in an e-mailed note. “Yanukovych appears unwilling to make key concessions at this stage, increasing the risk to his hold on power.”
The cost to protect Ukrainian debt against non-payment using five-year credit-default swaps jumped to 878 basis points yesterday, the highest since Dec. 16, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield on government bonds due 2023 was little changed at 9.374 percent at 9:54 a.m. in Kiev, following a four-day rally.
Regional government buildings in the western cities of Lviv, Ternopil and Rivne were taken over by activists. Demonstrators also targeted administrative offices in another seven of the nation’s 24 regions, smashing their way in when police offered resistance, Espreso TV reported.
Activists are trying to storm the regional governor offices in Chernivtsi, according to Ukrainian TV channel 5. An attempt in Ivano-Frankivsk failed because protesters were overmatched by the police guarding the building, Espreso TV said.
Police detained 58 protesters in the Cherkasy region for attempting a similar takeover, the Interior Ministry said.
In Kiev, where the temperature fell to minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero Fahrenheit), activists took over the building of the Agriculture Ministry near Independence Square after midnight to keep warm and set up a first-aid point, Interfax reported. At the site of nighttime clashes, protesters have re-ignited some of the fires, it said.
After the recent violence, opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok urged protesters yesterday evening to extend a truce with riot police until this morning, when Yanukovych has agreed to free detained activists. Police have pledged not to use firearms, he said.
The extraordinary session of parliament, which defeated a no-confidence motion against the government in December, will also vote on dropping charges against demonstrators being held in custody, Tyahnybok said. The Interior Ministry said yesterday that 103 people have been detained in Kiev.
Ex-heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who heads the UDAR party, said Yanukovych once again refused to meet opposition demands for early elections.
The crisis also continued to reverberate abroad. France has summoned the Ukrainian ambassador for a meeting today, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Davos, Switzerland, adding he’s “concerned and indignant” about the situation in the east European country.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov didn’t show any willingness to compromise.
“It’s absolutely impossible to hold snap presidential elections now,” he said yesterday in Davos, according to comments posted on the government website. “How can one speak about elections when the center of Kiev is occupied by gunmen? A coup attempt is in progress.”
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. The deaths resulted from live ammunition, the Interior Ministry said yesterday, denying that its officers fired the bullets. One of the deceased was a 20-year-old Armenian with Ukrainian citizenship; the other was from Belarus.
The opposition says five 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 and 30 remain missing, including an instigator of car protests that targeted officials’ homes, activists say.
About 250 policemen have sought medical help, according to the Interior Ministry.
“Blood hasn’t been spilled for nothing,” said Ihor Lavrinyuk, 27-year-old computer programmer who joined the protest Jan. 22 and plans to volunteer as a computer specialist. “There’s no way back and the government must go.”
In recent days, demonstrators have thrown Molotov cocktails and stones at police, who’ve responded by firing rubber bullets, deploying smoke bombs and beating activists with batons. Under yesterday’s truce, protesters extinguished tires set on fire to disrupt the movements of law-enforcement officers.
Groups of activists, many of them elderly women, broke stones out of the pavement, packing them into bags to strengthen barricades as high as about 4 meters (13 feet) around Independence Square and a street leading to parliament.
The U.S. has pledged to revoke the visas of persons linked to violence last year and White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday that sanctions remain under consideration. The EU warned it was considering its course of actions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Ukraine to stem the violence and condemned last week’s anti-protest bill. After European Commission President Jose Barroso spoke with Yanukovych yesterday by phone, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule will start a two-day visit to Kiev tomorrow to discuss the recent developments. Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, said yesterday that she’d visit next week to meet the president and the opposition.
“The EU has to reinforce the efforts in support of the political solution to the current crisis,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative to avoid further worsening of the situation and to pave the way for a genuine dialogue between the authorities, the opposition and civil society.”