Violence breaks out during attempted march on Parliament
At least eight people were reported killed in Kiev as deadly clashes between radical protesters and police erupted in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday, a day after opposition leaders returned from a key meeting in Germany.
Clashes broke out after thousands of protesters responded to a call from opposition leaders to stage a “peaceful march” on the Parliament in order to put pressure on lawmakers to support a resolution that would restore the 2004 Constitution, which shifted key powers from President to Parliament.
Well-organised groups of helmeted radicals carrying metal shields and iron rods attacked police with cobblestones and Molotov cocktails. Police responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Ukrainian UNIAN news agency said eight people were killed in clashes. Authorities confirmed the death of five civilians and two police officers who died from gunshot wounds. Three more policemen were in a coma, the Interior Ministry said. It is for the first time that protesters used firearms against police.
A guard at the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was killed when protesters stormed the building and set it on fire, according to lawmaker Oleg Tsaryov from the ruling party.
Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said “about 100 people” had been injured in the clashes on Tuesday. He warned that “organisers” and “instigators” of the violence “would answer for every injured person, every scorched car and every broken window.”
Ukraine’s Security Service and Interior Ministry served the opposition with an ultimatum to clear the streets or face “harsh” police action.
“If riots do not stop by 18:00 [9.30 p.m. IST] we will be forced to restore order by all legal means,” said a statement posed on the website of the Interior Ministry.
However, opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on protesters to hold their ground.
“We will not go a step back. This is our territory of freedom and we will defend it,” he told crowds gathered on Maidan, or Independence Square, which has been the heart of protests.
As the opposition refused to disperse the government declared “a state of siege” in Kiev and a ban on transport communication with the capital. Earlier authorities shut down the Kiev metro.
Security forces began to advance on the protesters even before the ultimatum ran out. As the night set in, police pushed back protesters towards Maidan and dismantled barricades on nearby streets.
Russia blamed the West for escalating the crisis in Ukraine.
In a statement issued on Tuesday the Russian Foreign Ministry said the new clashes in Kiev were “a direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes on aggressive actions by radical forces, thereby pushing them towards escalation and provocations against the legitimate government.”
In a boost to the embattled Ukrainian President Russia on Monday said it would shortly extend a second tranche of $2 billion out of a $15-billion bailout for Ukraine agreed in December 2013.
The new clashes came as opposition leaders returned from Berlin where they met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and discussed formation of a “pro-European government” in Ukraine.
“This new government will receive aid from our Western partners to stabilise the financial situation in the country,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said after the meeting.
Ukraine’s Parliament dominated by Mr. Yanukovych loyalists on Tuesday refused to register a draft on constitutional changes prepared by the opposition.