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Europe

Ukraine protests escalate as crisis talks end in stalemate

© AFP

Video by Gulliver CRAGG

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-24

Protesters in Ukraine built more barricades in the capital Kiev early on Friday, after opposition leaders emerged empty-handed from initial direct negotiations with President Viktor Yanukovich.

Former-boxer-turned-opposition-leader Vitaly Klitschko said that Yanukovich had yielded nothing in a second round of talks with the opposition on Thursday evening, and he voiced fears that the impasse could now lead to further bloodshed.

The opposition’s three main leaders - Klitschko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok - all attended the talks.

“Hours of conversation were spent about nothing. There is no sense sitting at a negotiating table with someone who has already decided to deceive you. I earnestly wish that there will be no bloodshed and that people are not killed ... I will survive, but I am afraid there will be deaths,” Klitschko said to protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square after the talks.

“There was a list of demands that we did not get. Will we go back? No! So now we will build barricades,” Yatsenyuk declared.

Witnesses said that in response to the opposition call, about 1,000 demonstrators moved away from Independence Square and began to erect new barricades from sandbags packed with snow closer to the presidential headquarters.

At least three protesters were killed early on Wednesday in Kiev - two from gunshot wounds - after clashes between protesters and police.

Scores of others on both sides have been injured - many of them with eye injuries caused by flying projectiles and police rubber bullets.

Anti-protest laws

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Kiev in November after Yanukovich backed out of signing a free trade deal with the European Union, negotiating a financial aid agreement with Russia instead.

But the movement has since widened into broader protests against the president’s leadership.

The protests took a violent over the past week, after Ukraine’s parliament passed new legislation limiting acts of protest.

Underlining the level of mistrust between the government and opposition earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov accused protesters of trying to stage a coup d’etat and dismissed the possibility of an early presidential election to resolve the standoff.

“All those who support this coup should say clearly, ‘Yes, we are for the overthrow of the legitimate authorities in Ukraine’, and not hide behind peaceful protesters,” Azarov said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“A genuine attempt at a coup d’etat is being carried out,” Russian news agency Interfax quoted him as saying.

Azarov told the Reuters news agency the government had no plans to introduce a state of emergency: “We don’t see the need for tough and extreme measures at the moment ... But don’t put the government into an impasse,” he said.

“People should not think that the government lacks available resources to put an end to this. It is our constitutional right and obligation to restore order in the country.”

Protests spreading

There are reports that protests are now spreading to other provincial areas.

Thousands stormed the regional administration headquarters in Rivne in western Ukraine, breaking down doors and demanding the release of people detained in the unrest there, UNIAN news agency reported.

In the central Ukrainian town of Cherkasy, 200 km (125 miles) south of Kiev, about 1,000 protesters took over the first two floors of the main administration building and lit fires outside the building.

The turmoil has caused alarm abroad. US Vice President Joe Biden phoned Yanukovich on Thursday and warned him over failing to de-escalate the standoff.

“The Vice President underscored that only the government of Ukraine can ensure a peaceful end to the crisis and further bloodshed would have consequences for Ukraine’s relationship with the United States,” the White House said.

Alarm in EU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed anger over the crackdown.

“We are greatly worried, and not only worried, but also outraged at the way laws have been pushed through that call these freedoms into question,” she told a news conference.

But Merkel added it would be wrong for Europe to respond to the violence with sanctions at this stage.

French President Francois Hollande called on Ukrainian authorities to “rapidly seek dialogue”.

A European Commission spokesman said Yanukovich had spoken to President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday and assured him he was ready to maintain dialogue and saw no need to impose a state of emergency in Ukraine.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged the presidents of Russia and the United States to help broker negotiations, and said Ukraine was facing a possible “catastrophe”.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-24

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