Ukraine's crisis could spin out of control, officials and opposition warn

No plans to impose emergency measures as country comes to ‘a critical boiling point’

Protesters gather near burnt out vehicles during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Protesters gather near burnt out vehicles during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 00:59

Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders have warned that the country’s tense political crisis could spiral out of control, amid clashes between protesters and riot police in Kiev.

Hundreds of people have been injured in sporadic fighting since Sunday, when almost two months of overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations erupted into riots, led by far-right radicals frustrated by government intransigence and the tactics of more liberal protest chiefs.

Allies of president Viktor Yanukovich and his opponents accused each other yesterday of dragging Ukraine towards violent conflict, as thousands of protesters continued to confront ranks of riot police near parliament and government headquarters. Across barricades of burnt-out trucks, demonstrators hurled rocks and petrol bombs and police replied with stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas.

“I would ask opposition leaders to appeal to their representatives in political parties to stop the escalation of violence,” said Ukraine’s security council chief, Andriy Klyuyev.

The pro-government council in the eastern industrial region of Luhansk denounced “armed confrontation that has placed the country on the verge of civil war” and urged Mr Yanukovich to ban “nationalist, extremist” groups and “take tough measures to impose order and restore legality, right up to the declaration of a state of emergency in Kiev”.

Mr Klyuyev insisted there were no plans to impose emergency measures in the capital. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who leads the party of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said Mr Yanukovich’s refusal to listen to protesters’ demands had led Ukraine to “a critical boiling point”.

“Only a few days or even hours remain when this political crisis can be resolved through discussions,” he said. Having earlier criticised those who fought with the police, Mr Yatsenyuk said yesterday demonstrators “acquired the right to move from peaceful to non-peaceful protest because the authorities’ deafness and scorn towards people triggered what is happening in Kiev”.