Ukrainian PM accuses protesters of ‘coup’
President’s call for emergency session of parliament may not prevent clashes
Pro-European integration protesters gather at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters
Protesters headed back to the barricades in Kiev last night after talks between Ukraine’s opposition leaders and President Viktor Yanukovich delivered no breakthrough in a spiralling two-month crisis.
The failure of the meeting added to tension that rose sharply across Ukraine yesterday, as anti-government protesters stormed government buildings in several cities outside Kiev, mostly in western regions that are the opposition’s stronghold.
After talks lasting some five hours, opposition chiefs were jeered by demonstrators on Kiev’s Independence Square as they delivered long-winded, contradictory speeches that revealed no major developments or clear plan of action to oust Mr Yanukovich and his government.
As the rally broke up, thousands of protesters left Independence Square – which is also known as Maidan – and headed for nearby Grushevsky Street, where other activists were relighting fires on barricades dividing them from riot police.
The flames were extinguished during a “truce” to allow for negotiations at Mr Yanukovich’s office.
The one offer to emerge from the meeting – that protesters occupying Grushevsky Street would be spared prosecution if they left the area – was rejected in a vote by the crowd on Maidan.
Opposition leaders urged protesters to occupy another street near Maidan, and made confusing statements about further talks, with one saying they should withdraw and another saying they would continue to participate.
The first major clashes in two months of anti-government protests erupted on Sunday when demonstrators frustrated with their leaders’ inaction confronted riot police.
Sporadic fighting continued until Wednesday, with police firing stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who hurled rocks and petrol bombs.
As many as five people were killed in the clashes, four from gunshot wounds.
Activists say they were shot by police, but officials deny firearms were used against rioters.
After the talks, Justice Minister Olena Lukash said opposition leaders had “refused to condemn extremist action . . . and no answer was found to whether in future they intend to control radical events on the streets of Kiev.”
Earlier yesterday, Mr Yanukovich called an emergency meeting of parliament for next Tuesday to discuss a crisis that now threatens to engulf several regions of Ukraine.
“All those who support this coup should say clearly: ‘Yes, we are for the overthrow of the legitimate authorities in Ukraine’, and not hide behind peaceful protesters,” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday.
Mr Yanukovich claimed Ukraine was being torn apart by Western powers and Russia in a battle for geopolitical influence.
The protests began in late November, when he rejected a landmark trade pact with the European Union to focus on repairing relations with Moscow.