Ukraine protests turn violent as EU ministers meet
Ukraine’s pro-EU protests turned violent on Sunday (19 January) amid anger over new laws and EU inaction.
EU foreign ministers and foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton will discuss the situation at a regular meeting in Brussels on Monday.
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She told press on Monday morning only that she is “following [the events] closely.”
Her ambassador in Kiev, Jan Tombinski, wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday: "We call on people not to aggravate [an] already very difficult and dangerous situation. Attacking police may give reason to those who don't advocate [a] political solution of the crisis."
For its part, Germany last week said the Union should consider freezing all co-operation, such as talks on visa-free travel, with the Ukrainian authorities.
But EU officials say nobody is keen to impose sanctions on the Yanukovych clan.
Several comments posted on Tombinski’s Facebook page testify to the protesters’ frustration at the EU’s handling of the situation.
“European politicians don't do anything else [other] than talk, talk, talk and hope for the best. The EU could have prevented this by simply freezing some bank accounts. Showing you care, you do by actions, not by words,” one post said.
“Help us, help Ukraine! [Don’t] just sit, watch, and comment!” another post added.
For its part, the US is being more hawkish.
The White House in its statement on Sunday blamed the Ukrainian government for the violence and threatened sanctions.
“The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people,” it noted.
“The US will continue to consider additional steps - including sanctions - in response to the use of violence,” it added.
Reports indicate that between 100,000 and 200,000 people joined a protest rally in central Kiev on Sunday.
The violence erupted a few hundred metres away when police tried to stop hardliners from marching on government buildings.
The demonstrators threw petrol bombs and stones, setting two police buses on fire. The police threw stun grenades and tear gas and fired water cannons.
The interior ministry said 60 policemen were injured. News wires say 40 or so protesters were hurt.
The events follow Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision, on Saturday, to sign into life a new set of laws criminalising the pro-EU movement and clamping down on NGOs.
Under the new legislation, people who take part in anti-government demonstrations face up to 15 years in prison.
Yanukovych on Sunday met one of the opposition leaders, boxer Vitali Klitschko, at his private mansion on the outskirts of Kiev. The President’s office later said that national security chief Andriy Kluyev will chair a new “working group” with opposition chiefs on Monday.
There are signs that opposition leaders, including Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, are losing control of the crowd, however.
When Klitschko called on protesters to stop attacking police on Sunday, one demonstrator sprayed him in the face with a fire extinguisher while others booed.
He later tweeted: “Viktor Yanukovych, do not go down the same road as [late Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu and [late Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi.”
Yatsenyuk told the Interfax news agency: “I don't rule out the possibility of a civil war.”