Protestors besiege government buildings in Kiev
MPs from ruling Party of Regions quit after deal forging closer links with EU is ditched
A woman distributes warm clothes to protesters at Independance Square in Kiev today. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters.
Thousands of Ukrainian protesters have besieged government buildings in Kiev calling for the removal of the government as anger over a decision to ditch a deal for closer ties with the EU spread to other parts of the country.
The entrances to the cabinet and central bank buildings were blocked, after a huge rally in the capital by hundreds of thousands yesterday. That demonstration was mostly peaceful, until a group tried to storm president Viktor Yanukovych’s office.
After hours of scuffles, police chased them away with tear gas and truncheons, injuring dozens. It was a violent police action against protesters early on Saturday that galvanized the latest round of demonstrations.
The opposition is hoping to oust the cabinet of prime minister Mykola Azarov during a confidence vote in parliament tomorrow. The opposition, which now controls about 170 seats, would need 226 votes in the 450-seat Rada.
Oleksandr Yefremov, head of the Party of Regions faction in parliament, said MPs might put a no-confidence motion up for a vote. At the same time, he said there were no grounds to dismiss the government.
“Our goal is to make sure that the people on Maidan (Independence Square, where the protests are taking place) calm down,” he said. Mr Azarov’s spokesman said the government was nto planning a state of emergency.
The turbulent situation does not bode well for Ukraine’s troubled economy, which has been in recession for more than a year. “The blockade of government offices and the National Bank of Ukraine, and the risk of a general strike, leaves me concerned now over Ukraine’s ability to pay its way in the very short term,” said Tim Ash, chief emerging markets economist at Standard Bank in London.
Opposition calls for a strike were being headed by local governments in western Ukraine, where most people speak Ukrainian and lean toward the EU.
In the industrial east of the country, most people tend to speak Russian and have a closer affinity for Russia. Officials in the western cities of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil announced they were going on strike and called on their residents to turn out for protests.
The mayor of Lviv warned that police in his city would take off their uniforms and defend the city if the central government sent reinforcements. Scores of protesters from Lviv and elsewhere in western Ukraine have headed to Kiev by train and car to take part in the rallies.
The opposition also was getting some support from Ukraine’s main television channels, which are owned by the country’s wealthiest businessmen. Instead of largely toeing the government line, the channels have begun to give a greater platform to the protesters.
In Kiev, thousands returned to Independence Square, a protest camp where several hundred people spend the night that has been cordoned off by barricades made of metal bars and wooden planks. Hundreds of others were holding ground inside Kiev city hall, where some protesters slept on the floor, while others lined up to receive hot tea, sandwiches and other food brought in by residents.
Other volunteers were sorting through piles of donated warm clothes and medicines. Protests have been held daily in Kiev since Mr Yanukovych on November 21st backed away from an agreement that would have established free trade and deepened political cooperation between Ukraine and the EU.
He justified the decision by saying that Ukraine could not afford to break trade ties with Russia.