Tension rises in Ukraine with talks blocked and deadlines looming
Protesters to discuss ‘peaceful offensive’ at mass rally planned for tomorrow
Ukrainian anti-government protesters Oleksandr and Halyna get married inside a makeshift tent chapel at Independence Square in Kiev yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Gleb Garanich
Concessions offered by Ukraine’s authorities and anti-government protesters have failed to defuse rising tension in Kiev, amid threats and ultimatums from both sides.
Courts yesterday released from police custody the last of 234 people detained during months of demonstrations against the rule of president Viktor Yanukovich and in return activists agreed to allow the partial resumption of traffic on a major Kiev street blocked by their barricades.
The freed protesters are under house arrest, however, and many face a possible 15 years in jail if they are not granted an amnesty that officials say runs out on Monday night if demonstrators in Kiev and other cities refuse to clear the streets and leave occupied buildings.
Opposition groups say they will consider leaving certain roads and buildings only if all charges are dropped against everyone arrested during the protests, which have occasionally flared into clashes with riot police that have claimed several lives and injured hundreds of people.
The revolutionary Right Sector alliance of nationalist groups, which is becoming an influential force in the opposition movement, said it agreed to the partial restoration of traffic on Grushevsky Street, a road leading to key government buildings that was the epicentre of riots. “We also demand the immediate closure of criminal cases against our comrades,” the group added in a statement. “If that demand is not met in the nearest future, we reserve the right to act as we see fit.”
Protests that began in late November against Mr Yanukovich’s rejection of a pact with the EU in favour of a bid to repair ties with Russia, have spiralled into demands for his resignation and a complete overhaul of the way Ukraine is run.
Demonstrators have taken over local government buildings in several western and central regions and set up “people’s councils”, and they occupy several official buildings around Kiev’s central Independence Square, which is known locally as Maidan.
A group of hundreds of volunteers called Maidan Self Defence yesterday told Ukrainian prosecutors to “immediately close all criminal cases against Self Defence. The deadline is 3pm on February 17th.” The group did not say what it would do if the demand was not met.
A major rally is planned for Independence Square tomorrow, at which opposition parties said the “main issue to be addressed will be a peaceful offensive by activists, so that the demonstrators’ demands be fulfilled”.
Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, has called for all protests to end by tomorrow, and riot police have been given greater powers to clear demonstrators from the street. Crisis talks between opposition leaders and top officials appear to have ground to a halt.