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Proteste in Kiew 20.01.2014
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine to hold crisis talks

January 20, 2014

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has tasked a working group with sitting down with opposition leaders. The decision followed mass protests that ended in violent clashes with police.


Confrontation in Kyiv

In a statement posted on his website, President Yanukovych said he had tasked a working group with meeting opposition representatives on Monday. The body is to discuss possible solutions aimed at ending mass anti-government protests which began in November.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko also confirmed the news after traveling to Yanukovych's suburban residence outside Kyiv late Sunday.

It remains unclear whether either side will be willing to reach a compromise, with the opposition calling for Yanukovych to step down and for fresh elections to be held.

Protests turn violent

Health officials in Kyiv estimated that at least 24 people were injured and three were hospitalized on Sunday as the latest rally against President Viktor Yanukovych descended into street battles between police and protesters.

The news agency AFP, however, cited police sources as saying that more than 70 officers were hurt when demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails. Several police buses and other vehicles were also torched.

Security forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon as protesters wielding sticks attempted to push their way toward Ukraine's parliament building.

Amid the chaos opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was sprayed with powder from a fire extinguisher, leaving his face and clothes covered in white powder as he tried to persuade protesters to refrain from violence.

Defying protest curbs

Sunday's clashes marked a sharp escalation of Ukraine's two-month political crisis, which has brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of the capital.

The US embassy in Kyiv responded with a statement urging an end to violence.

It called on the Ukrainian government to "immediately start negotiations with all sides to resolve the political standoff, address protesters' concerns, and prevent violence from spreading."

Anger has been exacerbated by the government introduction of legislation that significantly curbs the right to demonstrate.

Under the new legislation, officials can levy fines and, in some cases, give prison sentences ranging from two to 15 years for public dissent. Punishable offenses include blockading public spaces, entering public buildings en masse, facilitating protests through financial or logistical means, and setting up stages or tents in public spaces.

Some protesters had arrived in downtown Kyiv on Sunday wearing masks and pots on their heads, in direct defiance of the new law's restriction on donning anything that obstructs the face.

The bill passed swiftly through the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday night. The opposition accused the allies of President Yanukovych, who had favored the law, of skirting the democratic process after they held the vote by show of hands rather than using the procedural electronic system.

Protests began in November in reaction to Yanukovych's decision to shelve an EU Association Agreement. Critics fear the decision resulted from undue influence from Moscow.

ccp/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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