About 350,000 people took to the streets of Ukraine’s capital Kiev amid heightening tensions on Sunday to protest against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to forego signing a landmark deal with the European Union.
Violent clashes broke out in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday as protesters stormed the Kiev mayor’s office in the biggest display of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters defied a government ban on public rallies to mass on Kiev’s Independence Square on Sunday, demanding that President Viktor Yanukovich resign.
Police initially allowed the demonstration to rally peacefully, but when a few thousand protesters tried to storm the nearby presidential administration building, riot police used tear gas and truncheons to drive them back. Dozens of people with what appeared to be head injuries were taken away by ambulance.
Reporting from the city hall in Kiev, FRANCE 24’s Eastern Europe correspondent Gulliver Cragg said the storming first appeared to be the work of a small rebel group that had broken away from the main, peaceful march.
“But now hundreds and hundreds of people have come in here,” he said. “They have painted ‘Revolutionary Headquarters’ on the front door.”
Cragg said the commotion near the presidency administration had resulted in “a lot of people who weren’t being violent and who were tear-gassed”.
“Again, it’s not clear who started those clashes, who provoked the violence.”
Cragg said the demonstrations were no longer just about the botched trade deal with the EU.
“This has very much become an attempt to get rid of Viktor Yanukovich and his corrupt administration,” he said.
The interior ministry said the confrontation was initiated when about 200 people wearing masks tried to break through police lines with garbage truck and also used gas against police.
Prominent opposition leaders issued calls for calm as protesters broke windows of the city council offices to get into the building.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, a world boxing champion and a likely candidate in the 2015 presidential race, denounced the attempt to storm the president's office as an effort to provoke the government into declaring a state of emergency. But he also called for everyone to stay on the square in a peaceful protest.
The protest comes amid heightened tensions in the country after police used force to break up a pro-EU demonstration at the same square in the early hours of Saturday morning.
While Yanukovich said that he was “deeply outraged” by the violence, his interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, warned that police would respond if there were any mass disturbances during Sunday’s demonstration.
Saturday’s violence, in which police used stun grenades and batons against mostly young and peaceful protesters, was unprecedented in Kiev and attracted sharp criticism domestically and abroad.
“I want my children to live in a country where they don’t beat young people,” said Kiev resident Andrey, 33, the manager of a large firm, who declined to give his surname for fear of reprisals against him.
“I am glad we woke up after a 10-year nap,” he said referring to the 2004-5 Orange Revolution, co-led by now jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which thwarted Yanukovich’s first run at the presidency.
In an effort to defuse tensions ahead of Sunday’s demonstration, Yanukovich issued a statement saying he would do everything in his power to accelerate the process of moving Ukraine closer to the European Union. He also repeated the need to balance Ukraine’s European integration with its own national interests.
“Ukraine has made its own geopolitical choice. We are a European people and our path has been historically determined. But at the same time, according to my deep conviction, our government should integrate into an association of European nations as an equal partner to be respected,” Yanukovich said.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in a televised interview late on Saturday that Yanukovich would travel to Moscow to work on a ‘roadmap’ for new economic cooperation after a planned trip to China on Dec 3-6, though he gave no dates.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-01