Ukraine’s opposition called off a massive rally planned for yesterday because of the funeral for a protester killed in clashes with police last week, underscoring the rising tensions in the country’s two-month-long political crisis.
Thousands of people packed into Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev for the funeral of a 25-year-old Belarussian Mikhail Zhiznevsky’s on what would have been his 26th birthday. All three chief opposition leaders — boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, former Ukrainian minister of economics Arseniy Yatsenyuk and nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok — attended.
Yuriy, a friend of Zhiznevsky who asked that his surname not be used, said he was skeptical that those guilty of his shooting would ever be punished.
Ukrainian officials have confirmed Zhiznevsky died of gunshot wounds, but security forces have denied shooting on protesters.
Earlier in Kiev, police clashed with protesters who blockaded a building as the fate of the Ukrainian government remained uncertain.
In the latest violence, a few thousand protesters tried to storm an ornate cultural center where hundreds of security personnel were gathered in Kiev, a few hundred meters from the hub of the protests on Independence Square.
Demonstrators threw stones and smoke bombs, while police fired stun grenades and sprayed water into the crowd.
The security forces streamed out of the building through a corridor created by the crowd after Klitschko arrived at the scene and helped negotiate a solution.
Hoping to end the protests, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday offered Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister and Klitschko the post of deputy prime minister responsible for humanitarian issues.
However, the opposition leaders refused the offer as they say Yanukovich has betrayed the Ukraine and are calling for an election long before the next one is due in spring 2015.
Klitschko said it must be held this year, after describing the offer as a “poisoned” attempt to kill off the protest movement sparked by Yanukovich’s U-turn from the EU toward Russia.
The emboldened opposition leaders said they would press for more concessions, warning that they would not let Yanukovich call the shots, setting the stage for a tough political battle at a special session of parliament scheduled to be held tomorrow.