A pro-European integration protester throws stones towards riot police as others take cover in Kiev on Thursday. Ukrainian opposition leaders emerged from crisis talks with President Viktor Yanukovich on Wednesday saying he had failed to give concrete answers to their demands, and told their supporters on the streets to prepare for a police offensive. Image Credit: Reuters

Kiev: Ukraine’s opposition sought to ratchet up pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich after clashes between police and protesters turned deadly.

Opponents met Yanukovich on Thursday to demand snap elections and the annulment of anti-protest laws after giving the president a 24-hour deadline on Wednesday, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told TV5 before noon. The former heavyweight boxing champion agreed to a truce with riot police until 8pm in the centre of Kiev, where demonstrators set tyres on fire to complicate police movements.

Yanukovich is struggling to stem rallies against his November snub of a European Union cooperation deal, with police crackdowns fanning people’s anger. Three days and nights of clashes left as many as five people dead and about 2,000 injured as anti-protest laws took effect at midnight on Thursday and the government gave the police special powers to quell the demonstrations.

“The more blood is spilled, the harder it becomes for the opposition to give up without achieving its objectives and for the government to make concessions,” Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform, said by phone on Thursday. “The government needs to show that it’s not just holding talks with the opposition as a PR stunt.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday she currently saw no need to impose fresh sanctions against Ukraine over the deaths of pro-EU protesters as the bloc debates possible reprisals.

“We spoke about it and the foreign minister [Frank-Walter Steinmeier] and I believe that sanctions are not currently the order of the day,” she told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Berlin

Two bodies with gunshot wounds were found at a medical point set up by activists, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said yesterday. The opposition later said five had died. The US said it would revoke the visas of persons linked to violence and the EU warned it was considering its course of actions in response.

The cost to protect the nation’s debt against non-payment using five-year credit-default swaps jumped to 841 basis points, the highest since December 16. The yield on Ukrainian government bonds due 2023 rose for a fourth day, surging to 9.189 per cent, the highest level since December 26, as of 12.34pm in Kiev, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Russia reiterated that the West should quit interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Russia is convinced Ukraine’s authorities “know perfectly well what to do” and “resents” the interference of Western governments, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was cited as saying in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published today.


Gorbachev Plea

Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a 1990 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wrote to US President Barack Obama and Putin to request they broker peaceful resolution to crisis in Ukraine, according to Interfax news service.

“I ask you to find a way and take a decisive step to help Ukraine get back on the road to peaceful development,” Gorbachev wrote in a letter reported by Interfax.

European Commission President Jose Barroso spoke with Yanukovich on Thursday by phone, urging the Ukrainian head of state to “have the highest level of dialogue with the opposition immediately,” according to EU spokesman Olivier Bailly.

He also reiterated to reporters in Brussels that the EU would “assess possible consequences in its relationship with Ukraine” if the situation is not “stabilised.”

More than three hours of negotiations yesterday left the opposition frustrated. Yanukovich didn’t answer the demand for a snap election, Klitschko, the head of the UDAR party, told yesterday’s demonstration, where the RBC news service estimated turnout at more than 50,000 people.


No Result

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Thursday that Ukraine won’t listen to demands delivered by extremists, accusing protesters of provoking police force in order to blame the authorities for casualties. He said police near parliament weren’t firing live rounds and praised their professionalism.

The US on Thursday urged all sides to stop the violence, criticising the government for “failure to engage in real dialogue and the passage of anti-democratic legislation,” according to an emailed statement from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Aggressive actions by members of nationalist group Pravy Sektor are also unacceptable, she said. EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called for “genuine” talks to end the crisis.


Legislation Backlash

Anti-protest legislation passed last week backfired by turning a January 19 demonstration violent. As activists gathered for a rally at Independence Square, the government approved temporary security measures for the police, allowing officers to use water cannons in sub-zero temperatures and limit public access, including traffic.

Protesters reinforced barricades around the Independence Square overnight and continued to set tires on fire to create black smoke in front of a riot police line on the street leading to parliament.

Groups of activists, many of them elderly women, were breaking stones out of the pavement before noon in Kiev, packing them into bags to strengthen barricades up to about 4 metres (13 feet) in height.

“Blood hasn’t been spilled for nothing,” said Ihor Lavrinyuk, a 27-year-old computer programmer who joined the protest in Kiev on Thursday and plans to volunteer as an IT specialist for activists, or do other tasks. “There’s no way back and the government must go.”


Repelling Police

Fires were started on Thursday after two failed attempts by police to dismantle the barricades under a barrage of projectiles including Molotov cocktails, and to push the protesters back toward the square by using rubber bullets, smoke bombs and stun grenades, as well as deploying an armoured vehicle. More than 70 people have been detained, the Interior Ministry said.

Several activists who sought medical help overnight at hospitals were detained, TV5 reported.

It’s unclear whether the fatal wounds resulted from live rounds or rubber bullets, a Kiev police representative said by phone. One of the deceased was Serhiy Nigoyan, a 21-year-old Armenian with Ukrainian citizenship, prosecutors said. The other was Mikhail Zhyzneuski from Belarus, Radio Liberty reported.

Reports that a 22-year-old died in the hospital after being beaten and falling are being probed, the Interior Ministry said yesterday. More than 1,700 activists have been injured, according to the opposition, while the Interior Ministry said 195 policemen have sought medical help.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule is scheduled to visit Kiev for two days starting tomorrow to discuss the recent developments.

— Compiled from agencies