Stuart Williams and Oleksandr Savochenko — AFP Jan 24, 2014
Ukrainian protesters on Friday expanded their protest camp and barricades in Kiev after crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed to end the country’s deepening crisis.
After the latest round of talks, protesters began enlarging their protest camp on the capital’s Independence Square, as an uneasy truce held after five days of deadly clashes with security forces.
Opposition supporters advanced barricades up a street, ever closer to the presidential administration.
Activists also occupied the agriculture ministry in the city centre, the coordinator of activist group Common Cause, Oleksandr Danylyuk, said on Facebook, adding the group was seeking to replace the minister.
“The Maidan (Independence Square) is an island of freedom,” opposition leader and former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko told the crowds after talks Thursday with the president.
“And we will be expanding the territory of the Maidan until we are heard.”
Klitschko and two other main opposition leaders held four hours of talks with Yanukovych, but the relatively minor concessions offered by the president were greeted with derision by tens of thousands of protesters.
In a development likely to severely alarm the embattled Yanukovych, angry protesters in half a dozen regions in the nationalist west of Ukraine seized control of regional adminstration buildings.
“Several cities rebelled today,” Klitschko said in a late-night speech. “Tomorrow there will be more of them.”
This week’s clashes, which came after two months of protests over Yanukovych’s failure to sign an integration deal with the European Union under Russian pressure, have turned parts of Kiev into a battle zone and left five activists dead.
On Sunday a major rally against new anti-protest laws descended into violence after the crowds booed the opposition leaders over their perceived inability to mount a stronger challenge to Yanukovych.
Klitschko said the president appeared to be turning a deaf ear to the opposition’s key demand of the resignation of the government.
“I feel how tense the atmosphere is. I feel how great the hopes are,” he said.
Oleg Tyagnybok, leader of the Svoboda (Freedom) party, said there was a proposal to create a buffer zone between protesters and security forces that would leave the main protest camp on Independence Square untouched by police.
But when Tyagnybok asked protesters for a show of hands about whether the talks should continue, the answer was negative.
Parliament is set to meet Tuesday to discuss the protesters’ demands for the government’s resignation and the annulment of the anti-protest laws.
Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police, and the ceasefire appears to be holding so far.
At the epicentre of the clashes on Grushevsky Street, both protesters and security forces remained quietly behind their battle lines next to the stadium of the legendary Dynamo Kiev football club.
But neither side showed any readiness to pull back, an AFP correspondent said.
“Every 10 metres there is Ukrainian territory that we have to defend and for which we will fight to the end,” said one radical protester on the front line, who asked not to be named.
Both Klitschko and Tyagnybok, wielding loudhailers, visited the frontline barricades after their talks in a bid to persuade the protesters to continue to hold the ceasefire.
Tensions have also spiralled outside the capital and the governor of Ukraine’s western Lviv region, Oleg Salo, signed his resignation on Thursday after anti-government protesters shouting “revolution” stormed his offices.
The success of the protest appeared to inspire similar attacks in staunchly nationalist western Ukraine.
The deadly violence has horrified Ukrainians, who have never witnessed such scenes in their country — including during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was almost entirely peaceful.
A video posted Thursday showed a member of Ukraine’s Berkut riot police force assaulting and humiliating a naked protester after he was detained in freezing temperatures in Kiev.
The interior ministry apologised for the incident.