Ukraine protests spread to president's heartland
Ukraine's embattled president Viktor Yanukovych has been confronted by the first anti-government protests in his electoral heartlands in the country's east.
The protests – some violent – in several Russian-speaking cites on Sunday came ahead of an emergency session of parliament yesterday, which was expected to show whether Mr Yanukovych still commands the support of pro-government deputies.
Protesters have taken over regional government head-quarters in at least 10 provinces since last Thursday, when people in the Western city of Lviv stormed and occupied the regional administration there.
The outbreak of occupations was at first confined to Ukrainian-speaking western regional capitals, but on Sunday protests erupted in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Luhanks, all in Russian-speaking regions that have voted for Mr Yanukovych in the past.
Video footage from Dnipopetrovsk and Zaporizhia showed police teaming up with civilian auxiliaries – who protesters call "Titushki" – to crush the protests in violent street scenes.
Protests also broke out in the southern port of Odessa.
Polls show Mr Yanukovych still commands majority support in most of the east, including his home town of Donetsk.
While the occupations are of little practical significance – the opposition do not necessarily control the levers of regional power even where they have taken administration buildings – they have contributed to a sense of momentum that Mr Yanukovych is struggling to reverse.
In Kiev they seized the ministry of justice on Sunday night, in the latest in a string of occupations of public buildings that has nearly doubled the area of central Kiev controlled by protesters in the past week. Olena Lukash, the justice minister and a close ally of Mr Yanukovych, has threatened to appeal to the national Security Council and Defence Council to impose a state of emergency if the protesters did not quit the building.
A state of emergency can only be approved by parliament, however. Although Mr Yanukovych's Party of the Regions controls a majority in the chamber, many pro-government deputies are believed to have refused to vote for emergency rule when sounded out by Mr Yanukovych's team last week.
In tomorrow's debate, deputies are expected to repeal repressive anti-protesting laws that many protesters say sparked the violence that has gripped Kiev since last Sunday.
A ceasefire appeared to be holding at the site of the main stand-off between riot police and protesters on central Kiev's Grushevskogo street yesterday, where protesters man a complex system of sandbag barricades reminiscent of World War I trenches. (© Daily Telegraph, London)