Ukraine Activists Scuffle With Police as Violence Erupts

Ukrainian activists battled police for a second night in the capital, defying new laws to subdue anti-government rallies that began two months ago.

By 8:45 p.m. today in Kiev, protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police were met by rubber bullets and smoke bombs. Activists also began building a catapult to launch projectiles. The two sides exchanged smoke and sound bombs yesterday in subzero temperatures as police vehicles were burned. More than 200 people were injured.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s opponents have held out on Kiev’s Independence Square as demonstrations against his snub of a European Union cooperation deal got a boost from police crackdowns in November and December. Parliament passed laws last week to curb the protests, drawing rebukes from the EU and the U.S., which blamed the government for the latest violence.

“They wanted to frighten people but they gathered again -- people showed their readiness to fight with the authorities, ignoring the laws,” Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta Political Analysis Center in Kiev, said by phone. “There’s a radical mood and the authorities aren’t pleased. If they put more pressure on, there could be powerful resistance.”

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.

Burning Buses

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 yesterday’s rally, Ukrainian TV reported. About 2,000 were on Independence Square today, while another 2,000 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 from burned-out buses.

Yanukovych said yesterday he’d set up a commission to resolve the crisis. While he said today 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 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.

Hundreds Injured

More than 100 protesters had sought medical help and 42 were hospitalized, the Kiev City Council said. About 100 police officers were injured and 61 were hospitalized, according to the Interior Ministry.

Western politicians said the situation may persist as Yanukovych prepares to seek re-election next March, laying blame for the escalation with the authorities.

“I don’t see a short-term solution,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said today before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. “We probably won’t see one until the presidential election campaign draws on.”

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.

Sanctions Threat

“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.”

Yanukovych met yesterday with opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, who relayed protesters’ demands for snap elections and said the temperature had reached “a boiling point.” He called today on the president to personally join talks.

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.

New Laws

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 laws will be published tomorrow in the official government newspaper, the final step in their enactment, according to the opposition Svoboda party, which said today it had seen an advance copy of the publication.

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 began mass outings to the homes of officials including Yanukovych.

The EU said today in a statement that the laws “would significantly restrict the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights of association, media and the press.”

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 have been detained, it said.

“The authorities have announced a war on Ukraine and their acts led to military actions in central Kiev,” Klitschko said in an address to his countrymen. “I call on all citizens and patriots to protect their country and their future. Today, everyone should be in the capital.”

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