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President’s concessions fail to quell Ukraine riots

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-25

Riots continued overnight Friday across Ukraine despite President Viktor Yanukovich’s promises to make key concessions, including the reshuffling of his government. A top opposition leader said nothing short of his resignation would do.

Hours after the president’s comments, huge fireballs lit up the night sky in central Kiev and plumes of thick black smoke rose from burning tyres at giant barricades erected by protesters.

Clashes resumed at the barricades, which are just meters from lines of riot police and also made up of bags of ice and scraps of furniture.

Angry demonstrators hurled firebombs, rocks and fireworks at officers. Riot police responded with tear gas and several dozen protesters were rushed to a makeshift medical triage area to be treated.

“People shouldn't leave the streets,” demonstrator Bogdana Pavelychko told FRANCE 24. “What we are expecting now is the resignation of Yanukovich and the overthrow of the regime.”

Concessions aren’t enough, say opposition

The fighting had stopped earlier this week as opposition leaders entered into face-to-face talks with Yanukovich.

But hundreds of demonstrators in ski masks and helmets were still armed with sticks, stones and firebombs at the Kiev barricades.

After nearly two months of ignoring mass demonstrations calling for his ouster, Yanukovich offered to meet some of their demands, after crowds angered by the deaths of at least two protesters and allegations of abuse by authorities besieged government buildings in scores of cities in western Ukraine.

At a meeting with religious leaders, Yanukovich vowed at a special parliament meeting on Tuesday that he would push through changes to his Cabinet, grant amnesty to dozens of jailed activists and amend harsh anti-protest legislation.

"If we can put a stop to it peacefully, we will. If we do not succeed, we will use all legal means at our disposal,” Yanukovich said.

But Vitali Klitschko, an opposition leader who is a former world heavyweight boxing champion, declared the only way to end the street protests-- known as the Maidan after the central Kiev square occupied by demonstrators-- is for Yanukovich to resign.

“Just a month ago, the Maidan would have gone home,” Klitschko told reporters Friday night, according to the Interfax news agency. “Today, people are demanding the president’s resignation.”

Worsening confrontations

The protest law enacted last week appeared to have backfired on Yanukovich, sparking increasingly tense confrontations. The violence since Sunday was a harsh contrast to the determined peacefulness of the anti-government protests that have gripped the country for the last two months.

The rallies broke out after Yanukovich scrapped a key treaty with the European Union in order to secure a bailout loan from Russia. President Vladimir Putin had pressed hard to keep Ukraine in his nation’s political and economic orbit, but more Ukrainians favor closer ties with the 28-nation EU than a new alliance with Russia.

At least two demonstrators were killed this week in clashes with police and protesters have seized government offices in cities in western Ukraine, where support for Yanukovich is thin.

In a separate incident, a protester was found dead outside Kiev this week after going missing from hospital together with a prominent activist who was beaten but survived.

Meanwhile, protester anger boiled over as one activist recounted Friday how he was stripped naked, beaten and humiliated by police after being detained this week at a barricade in Kiev.

“They wanted to break my spirit and dignity but I stood firm,” said Mykhailo Havrilyuk.

His plight shocked the country when a video of the abuse was posted online, showing him standing naked in the snow, covered in bruises and taunted by policemen. Protesters were further angered after Kiev courts on Friday placed about a dozen activists, detained in clashes earlier this week, under arrest.

Protests spread outside of capital

On Friday, protesters continued occupying government buildings in a number of cities in western Ukraine, having forced two governors to resign and chasing another out of his office. Government buildings in many other cities were besieged by angry crowds.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who spent several years backing the scrapped EU agreement with Ukraine, suggested that Yanukovich was losing control over the country. He posted a map of Ukraine on his Twitter account, where many regions were shown engulfed by protests.

“If Kiev regime tries a military solution to this situation, it will be very bloody and it will fail,” Bildt tweeted.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele flew to Kiev on Friday to meet with Yanukovich and the opposition and try to broker a solution. The West has been urging Yanukovich to compromise with the protesters as well as threatening sanctions against his government.

“The country is sliding towards dictatorship and we must stop that,” said Denis Nakhmanovich, a 33-year-old protester. “Molotov cocktails are louder than any empty words from politicians.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

Date created : 2014-01-25

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