Protesters, police in standoff in Kiev after sporadic clashes

Agence France-Presse

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The opposition and authorities accuse each other of provoking further unrest

UNREST. Violence broke out in Kiev again late Friday, January 24, with molotov cocktails flying in one direction and stun grenades in the other, but both sides stuck to their positions and the flare-up did not escalate into the running battles seen earlier in the week. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP

KIEV, Ukraine – Protesters and Ukrainian police were on Saturday still locked in a tense standoff in Kiev after a night of sporadic clashes that erupted despite a truce and offer of concessions by President Viktor Yanukovych.

The epicentre of the two month-long crisis – Ukraine’s worst since 1991 – was relatively calm early Saturday, January 25, but hundreds of protesters were still at the scene with the security forces on the other side of their lines.

The opposition and authorities also accused each other of provoking further unrest after a body of a policeman was found in southern Kiev and a court jailed over a dozen protesters for two months.

Overnight, demonstrators had hurled Molotov cocktails at police who responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets, AFP correspondents said.

The exchanges on Grushevsky Street in Kiev lacked the ferocious intensity of those earlier in the week but will raise concerns about the sustainability of the truce brokered by opposition leader and world champion Vitali Klitschko in place since early Thursday.

The clashes had killed five activists earlier in the week, according to protesters. The authorities have confirmed two shooting deaths but insisted police were not involved.

Protesters set fire to the barricade of tyres at their frontline and kept it going throughout the night while banging on a makeshift war drum of metal sheets as the noxious smoke made them almost invisible to the police.

Toward the morning however they allowed the fires to die down and used them mainly to warm themselves amid temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).

The interior ministry meanwhile said a body of a police officer was found in southern Kiev, though without linking it to the protesters or clashes which have mostly engulfed the city centre.

The ministry further accused the opposition camp’s security of “attacking three police officers” near the Independence Square protest hub, injuring one of them with a knife and holding the other two captive.

The opposition denied responsibility for the attack or the killing Saturday and asked the police “not to provoke the situation by spreading false and dangerous news.”

“The resistance headquarters categorically denies this and considers this a conscious provocation done in order to stoke police outrage against the protesters,” said a statement posted on the website of the Batkyvschina (Fatherland) party early Saturday.

Opposition slams ‘absurd’ arrests

The opposition further fumed at a court decision to arrest over a dozen activists detained in bloody clashes earlier this week for two months, saying the authorities were going back on the promise to grant protesters amnesty.

“That is a demonstration of how Yanukovych is carrying out the promise to let the detained protesters go,” Klitschko’s UDAR party quoted him as saying after his visit to the Obolon district court late Friday.

The party said that 15 protesters were jailed, including a 72-year-old man accused of attacking a riot police officer. “All of the case testimonies and court decisions are copies of each other,” the former boxing star said, calling it “absurd”.

In a conciliatory move following demands of his ouster, Yanukovych said Friday that the extraordinary parliament session on Tuesday will “take a decision about reshuffling the government.”

He also said that parliament would discuss changes to tough anti-protest laws passed last week, which reinvigorated the protest movement, and that those detained in rallies who are “not guilty of heavy crimes” will be amnestied.

But in an apparent warning to opposition protesters, the Ukrainian president added: “If things turn out good then all is well, but, if not, we will use all legal methods” to resolve the crisis.

World leaders have condemned the violence and urged the president to hold talks. But so far Western pressure has had little impact on the standoff.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele held talks with Yanukovych in Kiev, without making any comment. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to visit next week.

France summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to voice its “condemnation” of the government’s response to the protests in Kiev, saying security forces had been ordered to open fire on demonstrators. Germany also summoned the Ukrainian envoy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States was in close contact with European allies to try to end the violence. –

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