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Tensions ratchet up in Kyiv

January 25, 2014

Ukraine authorities have threatened an offensive against demonstrators, who are accused of kidnapping two police officers. Meanwhile, one more protester, wounded in clashes with the police, has died in hospital.

Anti-government protesters gather at a barricade at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev January 25, 2014. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, in what appeared to be an offer of concessions to the opposition amid violent protests against his rule, pledged on Friday to reshuffle the government next week and to amend sweeping anti-protest laws. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
Image: Reuters

A statement from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has warned that police could storm Kyiv city hall to free two policemen who were allegedly captured by the protesters.

The ministry said it demanded the officers' immediate liberation. "If this is not fulfilled then the police will have to carry out measures to free those captured," said the statement.

The city hall is close to Independence (Maidan) Square, where demonstrators have held ongoing protests calling for fresh elections. Protesters, who deny that they are holding the officers, have been using the site as a makeshift dormitory and headquarters. A number of demonstrators briefly took hold of the country's energy ministry, while a regional headquarters in Vinnitsya - some 180 kilometers (110 miles) southwest of the capital - was seized by protesters.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said that attempts to resolve the overall situation peacefully had been futile. Zakharchenko, who is among the government figures that protesters' most despise, hinted that police might soon take action.

"The events of the last days in the Ukrainian capital have shown that our attempts to solve the conflict peacefully, without recourse to a confrontation of force, remain futile," he said.

The AFP news agency reported Zakharchenko as saying that the demonstrators were also hoarding weapons.

Change to city leadership

Meanwhile, President Viktor Yanukovych appointed Volodymyr Makeyenko to the post of city mayor. He replaces Olexander Popov, who has been blamed for violence against protesters last year. However, Makeyenko is himself considered to be a hardliner who would be in favor of some form of crackdown.

A man who suffered serious chest injuries in clashes with riot police on Wednesday was on Saturday reported to have died, having undergone several operations.

Five people were already believed to have died as a direct result of the clashes this week, which intensified in response to the controversial introduction of new anti-protest laws.

Talks on Thursday between Yanukovych and protest leaders appeared to have had little result, with protesters extending the site of their camp on Friday and strengthening barricades.

Ukrainewas plunged into a two-month-long crisis after the president refused to sign an association deal with the EU late last November. EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, held talks with Yanukovych on Friday, urging the Ukrainian government to halt "a spiral of violence and intimidation" in the country.

rc/slk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)