Violence in Ukraine as Thousands Clash with Police

February 18th, 2014 - by admin

Al Jazeera America – 2014-02-18 23:40:38

Ukraine Police Beat Protestors

Protestors Beat Ukranian Police

Deaths Reported in Ukraine as
Thousands Clash with Police

Al Jazeera America

(February 18, 2014) — Defiant protesters shouted “glory to Ukraine” as burning tents lit up the night sky after thousands of riot police moved against the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev on Tuesday.

The police, armed with stun grenades and water cannons, attacked the camp after at least 18 people died and hundreds were injured in street clashes. The violence was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the nation’s identity.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square.

Early Wednesday morning, government agencies said seven police officers and 11 protesters have died in the violence.

Sviatoslav Yurash, spokesman of the opposition’s Euromaidan Movement, told Al Jazeera that the opposition headquarters has been set on fire: “This is not an armed insurrection of the opposition. This is just people trying to defend themselves against the indiscriminate actions of the government.”

Vice President Joe Biden reached out to the president of Ukraine to express the United States’ concern over the growing violence.

In a statement released to the media, Biden “made clear that the United States condemns violence by any side, but that the government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the situation.”

“The vice president further underscored the urgency of immediate dialogue with opposition leaders to address protester’’ legitimate grievances and to put forward serious proposals for political reform,” the statement continued.

The developments came as several thousand anti-government protesters clashed with police near the parliament building, torching vehicles and hurling stones, in the worst violence to rock the capital in more than three weeks.

Police responded by firing rubber bullets and stun and smoke grenades from trucks and from the tops of buildings, forcing the protesters back by several hundred feet. Klitschko called on women and children to leave the camp over fears of a possible police assault.

The rioting on Tuesday began after opposition leaders accused pro-government factions in parliament of dragging their feet on a constitutional reform that would limit presidential powers — a key opposition demand.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also appealed Tuesday for restraint and a “genuine dialogue” in the strife-torn country.

Ban was “extremely concerned” by the resumption of violence and urged “the renewal of genuine dialogue between all parties,” his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

According to multiple witnesses, at least 100 protesters have been injured, some gravely.

“Three bodies of our supporters are in (our) building. Another seven are close to dying,” opposition lawmaker Lesya Orobet said on her Facebook page.

But the protesters showed no signs of letting up, prompting the government to threaten to take “grave actions” to forcibly end the protests.

“If unrest continues, we will be forced to take grave actions,” Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and state security agency said in a joint statement. “If unrest has not ended (within the next few hours), we will be forced to introduce order through all legal means.”

The renewed clashes piled more pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich to strike a deal with the opposition to reduce his presidential powers and defuse a 12-week crisis that has turned the city center into a fortified camp of resistance.

In a statement Wednesday morning Yanukovich called on protesters to disassociate themselves from radicals, saying it was “still not too late to end the conflict.”

Inside parliament, where opposition leaders brought proceedings to a halt by blocking the speaker’s tribune, Klitschko urged Yanukovich to take riot police off the streets to avert further “conflict in society.”

“I am appealing to the president. Take the (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 anymore about hours but about minutes.”

Protesters marched to the parliament building to press the opposition leaders’ calls for Yanukovich to relinquish what they call his dictatorial powers and his control of the economy. When they were blocked by a line of trucks about 300 feet from the building, they hurled stones at police, Reuters reported, and set three trucks ablaze with gas bombs. Ukrainian television said five protesters were hurt in the clashes.

As the clashes extended into early afternoon, protesters ransacked a nearby office of Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.

Yanukovich has battled the opposition-led street protests since he walked away from a trade pact with the European Union in November and opted for forging closer economic ties with Russia. The protests have since broadened into a revolt against perceived corruption in his government.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the opposition to talk with the government instead of relying on “threats and ultimatums.”

The protests have become a source of geopolitical tension, as the United States and its Western allies want Yanukovich to turn back to Europe and the prospect of an International Monetary Fund–supported recovery, while Russia accuses the US and EU of overstepping.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned in a statement on Tuesday that the European Union could impose sanctions on Ukraine in response to the violence.

“Whoever is responsible for the decisions which (have) led to the bloodshed in Kiev and other parts of Ukraine should expect Europe to reconsider its position on imposing sanctions on individuals,” Steinmeier said.

Posted according to Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.