Riots flared up again in the Ukrainian capital after the prime minister and the opposition called for foreign mediation to stem the unrest.
Following a day of calm, clashes resumed shortly after 10 p.m. near parliament as protesters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks and police responded with rubber bullets and stun grenades. The Interior Ministry said activists had kidnapped three riot police officers, though one had been released. Protest leader Ihor Zhdanov denied the claim on Channel 5 TV.
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 five 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 yield on government bonds due 2023 rose 19 basis points yesterday to 9.559 percent, advancing for a fifth straight day. The hryvnia was 0.1 percent higher at 8.435 per dollar, having declined by 0.7 percent in the previous session.
The Interior Ministry has no information on the two missing riot police officers, spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said in remarks broadcast by 5 TV. If they’re not released soon, police will have to use force to get them, he said.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday that he’s speaking to Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, while opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged an international presence at talks that have so far failed to quell the anti-government protests.
Azarov said Switzerland’s tradition of neutrality makes it a candidate to assist in negotiations with the opposition, who want snap elections and the repeal of the anti-protest laws. Klitschko said in a statement that Yanukovych wasn’t using “common sense” during their talks.
“Top Swiss officials haven’t made any comments that could be considered biased,” Azarov said yesterday in Davos. “Switzerland is a neutral country that currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. OSCE help is very important in resolving of the conflict.”
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said by e-mail that Burkhalter offered Azarov the OSCE’s “support and expertise” to search for ways out of the crisis.
While this week’s escalation in the protest movement occurred in Kiev, the focus has now switched to the regions as buildings of governors picked by Yanukovych were taken over by activists in the western cities of Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk and Khmelnytskyi.
Activists also targeted administrative offices in at least five more of the nation’s 24 regions, smashing their way in when police offered resistance, Ukrainian 5 TV reported. Police detained 58 protesters in the Cherkasy region for attempting a takeover, the Interior Ministry said.
European Union justice chief Viviane Reding warned of the risk of civil war, CNBC reported.
As the unrest spread, 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 2012 clashes with police.
Even so, the president ceded some ground, promising a cabinet shuffle and changes to the anti-rally bill at an emergency parliament session called for Jan. 28. Klitschko told reporters later that protesters won’t be satisfied until the president resigns.
Parliament will also consider a no-confidence motion against the government next week, Svoboda party head Oleh Tyahnybok said Jan. 23 after hours of talks with Yanukovych. Crowds on Independence Square raged at the lack of concessions won by opposition politicians, whistling as Tyahnybok spoke.
As part of a deal struck two days ago, three of the 103 activists who’ve been detained were freed yesterday morning. It’s unclear when crisis negotiations will resume, Natalia Lysova, spokeswoman for jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko’s party, said yesterday by phone.
“I don’t see talks leading to anything -- it’s been tried so many times,” said Ivan, a 20-year-old in an army helmet who’s been at Independence Square for a month and who declined to give his last name. “We’ll achieve something once the president resigns.”
Demonstrators seized the Agriculture Ministry building near their tent camp yesterday to shelter from temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero Fahrenheit) and set up a first-aid point, Interfax reported.
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 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, 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. A 27-year-old officer was found shortly before midnight yesterday in Kiev with a gunshot would 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 in Ukraine, according to the transcript of a TV interview on the ministry website.
“It’s very important that from the outside there won’t be any calls which the opposition and especially militants can see as an encouragement,” he said.
Sitting at Independence Square next to an old metal barrel with burning firewood, Oleksandr, a 54-year-old electrician from Kamyanets-Podilsky in western Ukraine who declined to give his last name, urged a negotiated end to the crisis.
“I don’t think opposition leaders should change what they’re doing -- it’s better to reach our goals through peaceful talks,” he said. “We’re all humans, we’re all Ukrainians, even though there are good and bad people on both sides.”