Ukraine: Clashes rage on between protesters, police in Kiev

Ukraine: Clashes rage on between protesters, police in Kiev
Diana Magnay/CNN
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 8:31am

Violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police continued in the center of Ukraine's capital, Kiev, overnight into Tuesday.

Demonstrators have been rallying since the weekend in defiance of new laws that set limitations on the right to protest.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that more than 30 protesters had been detained and 119 police officers injured since Sunday afternoon when the clashes began.

The city health care department reported 122 injured and 50 hospitalized. The number injured is likely higher since many people reportedly turn to medical volunteers for help rather than the official services for fear of consequences. Protest organizers said those treated in the hospital are questioned by police and registered as participants of mass protests, which may lead to arrest and criminal charges.

Both protesters and police have accused each other of violence.

The controversial new protest laws go into effect Wednesday, raising concerns they could be used to put down protests.

Opposition politicians have objected to the way that lawmakers loyal to Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych pushed the legislation through parliament last week by a show of hands.

The new laws include provisions barring people from wearing helmets and masks to rallies, from setting up tents or sound equipment without prior police permission, and from traveling in convoys of more than five vehicles without authorization.

A separate Interior Ministry order allowing the riot police to use firearms came into force Tuesday, according to the official Ukrainian legislation website.

The latest clashes are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych's decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead.

Russian foreign minister urges dialogue

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned at an annual news conference Tuesday in Moscow that the situation in Ukraine was "getting out of control" and pointed the finger at some opposition leaders.

"Now there are problems, attacks on the police, Molotov cocktails. This is beastly. It is an absolute violation of all European standards," he said.

He called on all parties involved to resolve the situation through dialogue.

Lavrov suggested the interference of European Union countries in Ukraine's internal situation was not helping. Russia is doing all it can to support the stability of the country, he said.

Ukraine's Institute of Mass Information, an organization promoting media rights and freedom of speech, said 34 journalists had been injured while reporting on the clashes.

There are also reports that hired thugs, armed with baseball bats and sticks, were trying to scare people in the city center.

Oksana Zinovieva, a spokeswoman for opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, said the former champion boxer had caught two of them himself.

A news release from Klitschko's UDAR party quoted him as saying, "There are hired thugs in the city and the police are not reacting."

Klitschko called on Kiev residents to create self-defense groups.

EU concerned about 'anti-democratic legislation'

EU foreign ministers and foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, who traveled to Ukraine last year, discussed the situation in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday.

In a statement, the bloc expressed "deep concern" about the legislation and called for a democratic solution to the current political crisis.

"(The EU) calls on all actors to exercise restraint and on the authorities to fully respect and protect the peaceful demonstrators' right to assembly and speech, and the freedom of the press," it said.

The White House urged all sides to "immediately de-escalate the situation."

"The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people," Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.

She called on Ukraine's government to repeal the "anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days," withdraw riot police from downtown Kiev and begin a dialogue with the opposition.

She said the United States would continue to consider additional steps -- including sanctions -- in response to the use of violence.

In December, despite weeks of protest by anti-government protesters, Yanukovych agreed to a deal with Russia's President Vladimir Putin for Moscow to buy Ukrainian debt and slash the price Kiev pays for its gas.

The tumult in Ukraine goes to the heart of its future ties with Russia and the rest of Europe. Ukraine is split between pro-European regions in the west and a more Russia-oriented east.

The protests have unfolded since November 21 when Yanukovych changed his stance on the EU trade pact, which had been years in the making.

The demonstrators say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion. Ukraine's government says the terms needed to be renegotiated to protect Ukrainians better.

Journalist Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, and CNN's Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. 

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