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Sunday 21 September 2014

Ukraine still mired in stalemate

Published 04/12/2013 | 13:36

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Orthodox priests join the protests carrying a giant Ukrainian flag (AP)
Protesters gather around a fire in a metal bin and eat food distributed for free at the central Independence Square in Kiev (AP)

A solution to Ukraine's political turmoil is remaining elusive with thousands of people continuing to gather on Kiev's Independence Square and besiege key government buildings.

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President Viktor Yanukovych was out of the country on an official trip to China and the government showed no signs of yielding. Dozens of charges have been brought against demonstrators, and nine people remain in detention following Sunday's rally when several hundred thousand protested at Mr Yanukovych's decision to freeze ties with the European Union and use force against a handful of peaceful demonstrators last month.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who survived a chaotic no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, urged the opposition to end its blockade of government buildings and warned the western regions of the country - where protest strikes were announced - that they may be left without federal funding.

"We must decide all this in a calm environment. Not in the streets, but in a responsible dialogue," he told a Cabinet meeting.

Demonstrators have set up scores of tents on the square, the centre of protests against the government, and blocked several streets leading to it with tall barricades of wooden pallets and random material. Large piles of wood dot the square, fuel for fires that keep the demonstrators warm in the freezing temperatures.

"We are now defending ... 46 million people. Either they will defeat us, or we will defeat them," opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

Last month, Mr Yanukovych's government abruptly halted preparations to sign a key political and economic agreement with the EU and focus on ties with Russia instead. Russia has used strong economic pressure to derail the deal, unwilling to lose this former part of its empire to the West.

Anger is also growing about nine demonstrators who were beaten and arrested when riot police violently dispersed protesters outside the presidential administration building on Sunday. Officials have said the action was in response to provocation, but supporters of the arrested say radical nationalists were responsible.

Six of those arrested are in intensive care and three others are in jail medical units, their relatives said, adding the men have been denied adequate legal help.

"They didn't even allow us to send him a lawyer," said Yana Stepanova, the fiancée of Mykola Lazarovskyi, one of those in intensive care.

She said she had lost touch by phone with him during the demonstration on Sunday, then heard from friends that riot police had routed the protesters.

Hours later, he called and "he said just two words, that he was in the hospital," she said.

Supporters of the arrested say state lawyers who had not met the defendants represented them at court hearings and alleged that independent lawyers are being intimidated against taking any of the cases. The arrested face a possible seven years in prison if convicted of charges of organising mass protests.

-AP

Press Association

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