A court in Kyiv has outlawed major public protests in the capital until March 8, a move government critics decried as the groundwork for a stronger police response to opposition demonstrations.
The temporary ban would affect any public demonstrations in central Kyiv involving stages, loudhailers, loudspeakers, banners or tents. The Kyiv court did not submit the reasoning for its decision.
The opposition Udar ("Punch") party of former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko called Wednesday's verdict the groundwork for "repressive acts against peaceful protesters."
Ukraine's capital has played host to a string of opposition protests in recent months, stemming from a November 21 decision to suspend a planned Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia.
Most recently, an estimated 50,000 protesters converged on the Maidan, or Independence Square, on Sunday in the first major demonstration of 2014. On the largest demonstration thus far, on December 8, an estimated 800,000 had taken to Kyiv's streets, famously toppling a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the former Soviet satellite.
In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations committee discussed Ukraine on Wednesday, inviting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to update the lawmakers on her ministry's plans. The US has hinted at the possiblity of sanctions against President Viktor Yanukovich's government on several occasions since November. Nuland twice visited Ukraine in December, famously handing out sandwiches to protesters at one evening rally.
msh/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)