Saturday 24 February 2018

Ukraine president slams riot police

Ukrainian riot police officers detain an activist during a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev (AP)
Ukrainian riot police officers detain an activist during a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev (AP)
Demonstrators protest during a rally in support of Ukraine's integration with the European Union in the center of Kiev (AP)

Ukraine's president has condemned the violent dispersal of pro-EU protesters by riot police.

Officers in riot gear moved against several hundred protesters on Independence Square in central Kiev, beating some with truncheons.

President Viktor Yanukovych said that he condemned "the actions that led to the forceful confrontation". He called for an investigation and for those responsible to be punished.

The demonstrators have denounced Mr Yanukovych's refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

About 10,000 anti-government demonstrators converged on a square outside a monastery where protesters driven away in a pre-dawn clash with police were taking shelter.

Opposition leaders called for nationwide strikes and for Ukrainians to mobilise en masse. Another big demonstration was called for tomorrow.

The demonstrators outside the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery were shouting "shame" and "resign." Some vowed to spend the night on the square, as temperatures hovered only slightly above freezing.

"Each of you have to come out and express your own position on what kind of country you want to live in - a totalitarian, police-controlled country where your children will be beaten up or in a European country," said Vitaly Klitschko, a world boxing champion and leader of the opposition Udar party.

Klitschko's call encapsulated the two issues agitating the demonstrators: Mr Yanukovych's refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU and the violent dispersal of protests denouncing that decision.

Mr Yanukovych has said he still hopes that Ukraine will one day sign the agreement with the EU, but that the country was too fragile economically and could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia.

Moscow regards Ukraine as historically part of its orbit and has tried to block the deal with the EU by banning some of Ukraine's imports and threatening more trade sanctions. A 2009 dispute between Kiev and Moscow on gas prices resulted in a three-week cut-off of gas to Ukraine.

The association agreement would have established free trade and deepened political cooperation between Ukraine and the EU, but stopped short of membership in the regional bloc.

In the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, where sentiment for European integration is especially strong, 10,000 demonstrators protested the failure to sign.

Meanwhile, another prominent protest figure, parliament deputy Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is calling for Mr Yanukovych to be impeached and on his government to resign. Mr Yatsenyuk said opposition leaders were working to organise nationwide strikes.

Earlier officers in riot gear moved against several hundred protesters at Independence Square in the Kiev city centre, beating some with truncheons. Some protesters then went to the monastery about 500 meters away to take shelter in its cathedral.

In the early morning action, police took 35 demonstrators into custody. Some protesters were bleeding from their heads and arms after the clash.

"It was horrible. We were holding a peaceful demonstration and they attacked us," protester Lada Tromada said. "They threw us away like garbage."

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in a statement that "the information from different sides which I have at the moment does not allow firm conclusions about who is responsible for this provocation," but said it would be fully investigated.

Kiev police chief Valery Koryak laid the responsibility on the protesters, saying the police were provoked into taking action, the Interfax news agency reported.

The European Union and the U.S. State Department condemned the violence against the protesters.

"We urge Ukraine's leaders to respect their people's right to freedom of expression and assembly," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"The European Union strongly condemns the excessive use of force last night by the police in Kiev to disperse peaceful protesters, who over the last days in a strong and unprecedented manner have expressed their support for Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU," the EU statement said.


Press Association

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