Ukraine's president calls crisis talks with opposition after protest in Kiev

Draconian curbs on freedoms prompt violent protests in Ukrainian capital; president forms special team to hold crisis talks with opposition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 9:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 10:20pm

Opposition protesters were locked in a tense stand-off with Ukrainian police in Kiev yesterday after bloody clashes overnight that left over 200 wounded. President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis.

The clashes, the worst in Kiev in several weeks, came amid mounting anger over new restrictions on protests imposed by Yanukovych after almost two months of demonstrations against his refusal to sign a pact for integration with the European Union.

A special commission set up by Yanukovych was due yesterday to meet representatives of the opposition for emergency talks.

After a night of violence that continued into the early hours, hundreds of protesters remained on the streets having spent the night in temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius.

Watch: Fire and fury in Kiev

On Sunday thousands of protesters joined a two-month-old sit-in on Kiev's Independence Square, with speakers and demonstrators frustrated with opposition politicians for not providing clear leadership or a workable strategy.

The rally was the first since Yanukovych signed a package of draconian laws that restrict speech, the news media, the right of assembly and internet use.

Looking for a fight, several hundred demonstrators armed with heavy sticks and baseball bats broke away and confronted police on the street leading up to the parliament. They lit fireworks and threw flares and stones. Police responded with flash grenades and fire hoses. There were a few pitched fights. The interior ministry said 20 security troops were injured, four seriously.

The battle saw strident nationalists, who have been chafing at the lack of direct action, clash with the forces of authority. A bus was set on fire, a first for Kiev.

A speaker addressing the crowd said protesters were demanding that parliament - which went into recess immediately after passing the new legislation on Thursday - be called back to reconsider the laws.

Former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, of the Udar party, waded into the clashes and tried to stop them, with some temporary success. "Violence leads to nothing but mayhem," the head of the Fatherland Party, Arseny Yatsenyuk, told the big crowd at Independence Square. "With radical actions we destroy our probable victory." But earlier, the crowd had chanted "Leader, leader!" to show its unhappiness with the performance of the opposition parties.

Klitschko called for a referendum on early elections and said the parties arrayed against Yanukovych's Party of Regions would begin to set up an alternate government.

Yesterday the police took our licences … tomorrow they’ll probably take us

"They should have created a provisional government months ago," said protester Inna Halak, who lost her driver's licence on Saturday because she was identified by police as a participant in a car rally against Yanukovych.

What Halak said concerned her most was that the three main opposition parties - Udar, Fatherland and Svoboda - were starting to look out for their own interests at the expense of the movement's. The leaders of all three parties have talked about running for president.

Klitschko announced that he and the other two party chiefs planned to meet overnight to discuss a strategy.

That's too late, said Halak's friend Tamara Demchenko. "Yesterday the police took our licences. Tomorrow they will take our cars. The day after tomorrow they'll probably take us."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse