After a day of violent confrontations between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev, the Ukrainian authorities issued an ultimatum on Tuesday afternoon threatening “severe measures” to stop the unrest.
A joint communiqué from the ministry of the interior and the security service warned that “if the troubles here don’t stop by 6pm local time (4pm GMT), we will be obliged to restore order by any legal means.”
Earlier in the day, several thousand anti-government protesters clashed with police near Ukraine’s parliament in the capital Kiev, torching vehicles and hurling stones in what is the worst violence the city has seen in more than three weeks.
Police responded by firing rubber bullets and stun and smoke grenades, forcing the demonstrators back by about 100 metres. In the late afternoon, police reported that five civilians had died in the clashes.
Inside parliament, where opposition leaders brought proceedings to a halt by blocking the speaker’s tribune, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko urged Yanukovich to take riot police off the streets to avert further “conflict”.
“I am appealing to the president. Take the Berkut (riot police) and interior forces off the streets. Do this and it will provide a way out. It will be the decision of a real man,” the boxer-turned-politician told reporters inside parliament.
“We are not talking any more about hours but about minutes.”
The protesters had marched to the parliament building to press the opposition leaders’ calls for Yanukovich to relinquish what they call his “dictatorial” powers, particularly his control of the economy and the security forces.
But when they were blocked by a line of trucks about 100 metres from the building, they hurled stones at police, a Reuters news agency witness said, and set three trucks ablaze with petrol bombs.
As the clashes extended into early afternoon, protesters ransacked a nearby office of Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.
Yanukovich has been battling protests led by the opposition in Kiev since November, when he walked away from a trade deal with the European Union to negotiate a $15 billion financial aid agreement with Russia instead.
The demonstrations have since expanded into nationwide protests against perceived sleaze and corruption within Yanukovich’s government.
‘We’re not for sale’
Opposition leaders have demanded the president accept curbs on his powers that would allow them to form an independent government to end unrest and save the economy from collapse.
In what has become a geo-political dispute reminiscent of the Cold War, the United States and its allies have urged Yanukovich to turn back to Europe and the prospect of an IMF-supported recovery. Meanwhile, Russia has criticised the West of foreign interference.
Yanukovich, who must soon name his choice for a new prime minister, got a boost on Monday when Russia said it would give Ukraine $2 billion in financial aid to shore up its heavily indebted economy.
The move, however, failed to impress the protesters.
“If all the money that today’s authorities have stolen was returned we’d be able to help Russia with our money,” said 35-year-old Serhiy Vashko. “We don’t need their money.”
“We don’t need this money from Russia because it is not meant to help but to buy us. But we are not for sale. Can’t they see that this is simply a dirty bribe?” said Valentin Sypko.
Thousands of protesters have turned Kiev city centre and its main Independence Square into a fortified camp, surrounded by barricades of tyres, sandbags and barbed wire. They say they will not withdraw until Yanukovich has made real concessions.
At least six people have died in the unrest, though until Tuesday, there has been little violence over the past few weeks.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-18