Kiev demonstrators locked in standoff with police

AFP, KIEV

Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - Page 1

Opposition protesters were yesterday locked in a tense standoff with police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded more than 200 people, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis.

The clashes, the worst in Kiev in recent times, came amid mounting anger over new restrictions on protests imposed by Yanukovych after almost two months of demonstrations against his refusal to sign a pact for integration with the EU.

A special commission set up by Yanukovych was due yesterday to meet representatives of the opposition for emergency talks, but it was unclear if this could in any way help ease the crisis, with parts of central Kiev resembling a battlefield.

After a night of violence that continued into the early hours, hundreds of protesters remained on the streets yesterday morning having spent the night in temperatures of minus-10?C.

The situation remained tense with protesters launching occasional sorties at the police line to throw stones or Molotov cocktails and their numbers again increasing.

In near-apocalyptic scenes close to parliament, several police buses and vehicles were torched late on Sunday by the protesters who hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at the ranks of the security forces. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon.

According to Kiev health authorities, more than 100 protesters were wounded in the clashes, with four people sustaining serious injuries to eyes and limbs.

The Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior said that more than 100 members of the security forces had been wounded.

The ministry added that 20 people had been arrested for mass rioting. US-funded Ukrainian radio station Radio Svoboda said two of its journalists had been arrested yesterday morning while filming at the scene.

In the most violent scenes since the protests began in November last year, demonstrators late on Sunday set five buses and two trucks on fire, while the air filled with the stench of tear gas.

Later in the night, they began to dig the cobble stones out of the road to hurl at police and use as barricades.

Opposition leaders, including former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, urged protesters to refrain from using force, but their calls were ignored.

It was not clear who was behind the clashes with police, which appeared to have been a well-organized move.

Ukrainian media linked the action to a hitherto little-known right-wing youth group called “Right Sector.”

In an apparent attempt to find a compromise, Klitschko traveled to the president’s luxurious Mezhygirya residence outside Kiev to meet Yanukovych in person.

The president received Klitschko and promised early yesterday to create a special commission of officials set up by Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Andriy Klyuyev to solve the crisis, the boxer’s party and the presidency announced.

Klitschko told online television channel Hromadske TV that the president had appeared “very concerned” by the latest events, but also pointedly ignored the opposition’s main demand for early elections.