Ukrainian activists barricade ‘island of freedom’ as talks fail
Anti-government protestors seize ministry and govern buildings
A demonstrator throws a Molotov cocktail during a protest in downtown Kiev earlier this week. Photograph: EPA
A revolutionary fervour is spreading in Ukraine, after opposition protesters in Kiev occupied a ministry and built new barricades close to the headquarters of President Viktor Yanukovich, and activists seized government buildings in western cities.
Demonstrators say they took control this morning of the agricultural policy ministry in the centre of the capital. Protesters have also taken local council offices in the cities of Lviv, Ternopil and Rivne, and are surrounding the equivalent buildings in several other regions.
Talks yesterday between Mr Yanukovich and the three main opposition leaders failed to produce a breakthrough in a two-month political crisis that turned bloody this week, with the death of up to five protesters. Activists say four were shot and the fifth thrown to his death by riot police.
Hundreds of demonstrators and police were injured in sporadic fighting from Sunday night until Wednesday, as protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs and dodged stun grenades, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets fired in return.
A tense “truce” held through Thursday and into this morning. Activists have used the lull to build several lines of fresh barricades protecting their main camp on Independence Square, which is also known as Maidan. Last night, they also erected a huge new barrier only about 200 metres from the presidential administration.
“The Maidan is an island of freedom,” opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told the crowds after the five-hour talks ended. “And we will be expanding the territory of the Maidan until we are heard.”
Andriy Parubiy, a prominent opposition activist, said this morning that the task of expanding the Maidan included the seizure of regional administrations.
“Every hour we get an announcement that our ‘Maidanovtsi’ have entered another administration, and will only listen to the orders of the Maidan, not the orders of Yanukovich.”
Opposition chiefs emerged from a meeting with Mr Yanukovich with no major concessions. They are demanding early presidential and parliamentary elections, the dismissal of the government and punishment of those responsible for violence against demonstrators, and the annulment of sweeping new laws banning most protest activity.
“We spent hours talking about nothing. There is no sense sitting at a negotiating table with someone who has already decided to deceive you,” Mr Klitschko told tens of thousands of people on Maidan.
The former world heavyweight boxing champion and other opposition chiefs were unable to give the crowd a clear plan of action to unseat Mr Yanukovich, however, and their nervous, uncertain speeches were occasionally booed, whistled and subjected to chants of “Shame!”
In recent days party leaders have been shown to have little control over more radical protesters - including some ultra-nationalists - who want to confront riot police and have no faith in negotiations with the authorities.
They believe Mr Yanukovich is only playing for time before mounting a bid to violently crush the uprising. They say he and his allies will do whatever necessary to stay in power because, if ousted, they face prosecution and imprisonment for allegedly massive corruption and for their handling of the crisis.