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Thousands of protesters keep vigil at barricades in central Kiev

Published time: December 02, 2013 08:30
Edited time: December 03, 2013 03:40

A protester attaches a Ukranian flag on to a barricade on a street leading to Independence Square in Kiev December 2, 2013. (Reuters / Stoyan Nenov)

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Ukrainian opposition activists have entrenched themselves in the center of the Ukrainian capital, taking night watch on barricades ready to repel any possible police attack.

The cordons erected by the pro-European opposition on Maidan Square are constantly patrolled by activists.

Demonstrators have been pouring water next to a barricade leading to the presidential administration building, hoping that a possible police assault would be hindered by the icy surface, RIA reported. Protesters also blocked the entrance to the government’s clubhouse, setting up tents and burning bonfires near the barricade.

Thousands of other protesters in the meantime burned bundles of firewood and drinked hot tea to stay warm in -3 degrees Celsius weather. A few hundred more have made it to the Oktabrisky Palace some 600 metres away from the main square.

As the city awakes to a new day, the presidential administration building is constantly under guard by special forces. There is also a heavy police presence next to the Ukrainian government building.

On Monday opposition leaders formed a column of protesters that marched to the Ukrainian government headquarters and encircled it, declaring they would stay there all day to prevent the government from functioning. Protesters have also announced a national strike beginning Monday.

Eight buses with officers from the Berkut riot police squad are parked in the courtyard of the government building, but they are not interfering with the demonstrators. Police are guarding the entrances to the cabinet.

People shout slogans and wave Ukrainian and European Union flags during an opposition rally at Independence Square in Kiev on December 2, 2013. (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

Those blocking government headquarters are carrying national flags and banners of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, following overnight clashes with the police.

Opposition leaders have addressed their supporters and reiterated their demands: resignation of both the government and the president and early presidential and parliamentary elections.

Kiev mayor, Aleksandr Popov, has called on the protesters occupying the city administration building to “let the employees work normally for the city, its citizens and guests”. Popov warned that blocking the administration’s work may result in “delays in payments for public sector workers, food shortages, water, power and heating shortages”, and may disrupt the work of hospitals, schools and kindergartens.

Former minister of the interior and currently one of the leaders of the opposition, Yury Lutsenko, called on the people to rally near the cabinet building and not to approach the presidential administration, which was fruitlessly sieged on Sunday.

A protester holding a Ukrainian flag plays soccer during a rally at Independence Square in Kiev December 2, 2013. (Reuters / Stoyan Nenov)

The rally near the seat of government will continue until “an order to return to Maidan [Independence Square] comes,” Lutsenko stressed. 

Protest leaders are stressing that the march is peaceful and are calling on their supporters to “remain calm”.

But the Ukrainian authorities see “signs of a coup” in the attempts to block the government agencies by the protesters, Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov said on Monday during a meeting with ambassadors from EU states and the US in Kiev.

Some political forces have “an illusion” that they can topple the government, Azarov said, adding that the government is nevertheless exercising restraint and has ordered police not use force against peaceful demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the developments in Kiev have no direct relation to Ukraine and the EU deal, and that they had been prepared by the opposition to undermine the country's legitimate government.

People supporting EU integration attend a rally in Kiev, December 2, 2013. (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

“As far as the events in Ukraine are concerned, to me they don’t look like a revolution, but rather like 'pogrom'. However strange this might seem, in my view it has little to do with Ukrainian-EU relations,” Putin said. 

The Ukrainian protest reached a head of steam the previous night in fierce clashes with police, who were trying to contain a human sea of reportedly around 500,000 protesting people.

Some senior EU politicians have blamed Russia for what's led to the situation in Kiev, saying it was Kremlin interference that sunk the deal with the EU.

But the fact that some European politicians are getting involved directly in the protests in Ukraine, and are calling for a revolution and a regime change in the country “is the most egregious violation of the UN Charter and international law, violation of sovereignty and noninterference into domestic affairs of other states,” Mark Sleboda, professor of international relations at Moscow State University, speaking to RT. 

Protesters are seen near barricades which blocked a street in Kiev December 2, 2013. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

The clashes left 165 activists wounded, 109 of whom were hospitalized overnight. Reportedly, nearly 140 law enforcement officers were also injured, and no less than 75 of them were brought to hospitals, five in serious condition.

Over 40 journalists suffered injuries in recent clashes between protesters and police in Kiev. Most of them were wounded during the siege of the presidential administration on Sunday, Interfax reported.

Despite the huge number of people taking part in the protests, police said the ‘spear’ of protesters, who lashed police ranks, were groups of young aggressive activists. Masked and wearing helmets, armed with tubes and metal rods, they were a rogue element numbered in the mere hundreds, according to the police. Most of them belong to ultra-right nationalist groups.

 

"The presidential administration building became a scene of a battlefield on Sunday as several hundred protesters clashed with the police in a very brutal for Ukraine manner with rocks flying towards the police, tear gas and flashbangs used (against the police); this was pretty much hell breaking loose," RT's Aleksey Yaroshevsky reported. 

Protesters participating in pro-EU rallies stand near the entrance to Ukraine's Cabinet building in Kiev on December 2, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)

The demonstrators managed to storm the Kiev City Council building and headquarters of the Ukrainian trade unions, but police managed to protect other government buildings.

Having failed to seize major government buildings in the Ukrainian capital and paralyze the work of the government and presidential administration, opposition activists are gearing up to make another attempt to gain the upper hand for more bargaining power.

“We should be careful about attributing what’s going on to the majority of people in Ukraine. I suspect that the tragedy of Ukraine is that the great majority of people is rather passive and certainly rather disillusioned about politics on both sides,” Mark Almond, professor of history at Oxford University told RT. In the end the minority groups of nationalists supported from the EU might succeed in creating a really volatile situation, which would question "whether Ukraine is viable as a state", Almond warned.

In the meantime, police are negotiating with opposition members who remain inside the seized buildings, trying to talk them into leaving the scene peacefully. They are trying to persuade the activists that in view of the start of a new working week, civil servants must return to work in the mayor’s office and trade unions’ headquarters.

Some intruders have agreed to move on to Maidan Square and join activists who remain there behind barricades, guarding territory gains made overnight.

The city of Kiev is now much quieter. The number of protesters has decreased dramatically, practically 100-fold, from the estimated 500,000 to 5,000 currently rallying near the government residence. The protesters remaining on Maidan Square have even made passageways in the barricades to allow pedestrians through. Several police buses are parked next to the presidential headquarters, providing protective security. 

About 1,000 protesters blocked off the Ukrainian government's main headquarters on Monday in protest at its decision to suspend moves to deepen integration with Europe and to revive economic ties with Russia. (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)


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