Ukrainian opposition protesters yesterday attacked the party headquarters of embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as fierce clashes with police erupted again in Kiev for the first time in weeks.
Protesters briefly seized the party headquarters after several hundred attacked it with Molotov cocktails and smashed their way inside, but later withdrew as smoke continued to billow from part of the building, a reporter at the scene said.
It marked the first violent clashes since the middle of last month in the Ukrainian capital, which has been wracked by anti-government demonstrations since Yanukovych in November last year rejected an EU pact in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Demonstrators turned their ire on Yanukovych’s party after clashes broke out with riot police around the nearby building of the Ukrainian Parliament, where about 20,000 mainly peaceful protesters had massed to demand legislators strip the president of a raft of powers.
Police fired rubber bullets and hurled smoke bombs and stun grenades at protesters who threw paving stones and set two trucks on fire trying to break through to the heavily fortified parliament.
Demonstrators were calling on the Rada parliament — where Yanukovych’s party has a majority — to vote on returning the country to its 2004 constitution, under which key powers would shift from the president to parliament.
Before the latest outbreak of violence yesterday, Ukraine appeared to be inching toward resolving its worst post-Soviet crisis that was sparked by Yanukovych’s decision in November to reject an EU pact years in the making. The pro-EU, anti-government protests have since snowballed into a titanic tug-of-war for Ukraine’s future between Russia and the West.
On Monday the government granted an amnesty to those arrested in the protests after the opposition vacated Kiev’s city hall and other administrative buildings it had been occupying.
Also on Monday, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko held talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging her to slap sanctions on Yanukovych and his financial backers in a bid to ratchet up pressure on the embattled leader.