Russia warns Ukraine ‘out of control’ after new violence
Russia on Tuesday warned the situation in Ukraine was spiralling out of control after a second night of violent clashes between pro-EU protesters and security forces in the centre of Kiev.
The clashes raged in the centre of the Ukrainian capital until early morning Tuesday, with demonstrators flinging Molotov cocktails and stones at security forces who hit back with stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas.
The situation remained tense Tuesday, with thousands of protesters still facing down a line of armour-clad security forces blocking access to the Verkhovna Rada parliament.
A deafening din echoed through the devastated Grushevsky Street as protesters banged sticks on metal cannisters. But in a rare calm, clashes paused for several hours with some demonstrators even walking up to the police line.
The standoff, which has left hundreds wounded, has brought tensions between protesters and the authorities to a new high after two months of rallies over the government’s abandoning of a pact for closer ties with the EU.
A new set of laws, which ban nearly all forms of protest in the ex-Soviet country and have enraged demonstrators, were officially published in the newspaper of the Ukranian parliament after a warning from President Viktor Yanukovych that the violence threatened the entire country.
They allow for jail terms of up to five years for those who blockade public buildings and the arrest of protesters wearing masks or helmets.
Justice Minister Olena Lukash said that the new laws would come into force from midnight. However powerful national security council secretary Andriy Klyuyev said there was no plan to impose a state of emergency.
Russia warns ‘situation out of control’
Russia, which has regarded the pro-EU protests in Ukraine with great suspicion, warned Tuesday that clashes there between the opposition and police were getting out of control.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the fact that calls by Ukraine’s pro-EU opposition leaders to refrain from violence failed to calm tensions in the capital meant that the situation was becoming explosive.
“They show that the situation is getting out of control,” said Russia’s top diplomat.
Lavrov described the violent protests as “scary” and an “absolute violation of all European norms of behaviour”.
He also slammed the EU’s “indecent” support of the protest movement against Yanukovych.
On Tuesday, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called the situation in Ukraine “very worrying” and said the government should suspend the controversial anti-protest laws.
Clashes on Sunday and Monday, which followed two months of protests, turned an area in the centre of the capital Kiev into a veritable war zone as some 10,000 demonstrators battled security forces.
Demonstrators rigged up a giant catapult behind a barricade of burned out police buses in order to better hurl projectiles at the security forces.
Police have responded by throwing stun grenades and occasionally using rubber bullets and tear gas, while the most radical opposition supporters used lasers to blind security forces.
The violence in a country where the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 peacefully overturned a rigged presidential poll and forced a new ballot is unprecedented.
Hundreds wounded, dozens arrested
Police said 163 members of the security forces were wounded and 80 of them were hospitalised.
It was not immediately clear how many protesters were injured as many were afraid to seek medical help on fears of getting arrested, but activists said hundreds were hurt.
At least 35 journalists were hurt in the clashes and some received injuries to their faces and eyes from rubber bullets, Ukrainian press freedom group the Institute of Mass Information said.
The interior ministry said 50 activists had been arrested as part of an investigation for mass rioting.
In a televised address to the nation, Yanukovych warned on Monday that the violence threatened the foundations of the entire country, which is divided between the pro-European west and the pro-Russian east.
The opposition led by three politicians including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said it was ready for dialogue but stressed it wanted to hold talks with Yanukovych, not his aides.
Klitschko went to the presidential administration in Kiev for a meeting with Yanukovych but left after being told the president was too busy to receive him, his party said.
Opposition leaders appeared unable to have any influence on the hard core of radical protesters and stopped short of supporting their actions.
But Ukraine’s jailed former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko came out in support of those clashing with police, saying she would be with them if she could.