Ukraine Protests: Opposition Issues ‘Attack’ Ultimatum
Ukrainian opposition leaders have issued an ultimatum to President Viktor Yanukovych, after talks failed to resolve the political stalemate.Vitali Klitschko said he would lead pro-EU protesters “on the attack” in the capital, Kiev, if the government refused to call snap elections.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said compromises “might be possible”, but the opposition should avoid ultimatums.
Two activists were killed in clashes with police in Kiev on Wednesday.
Prosecutors confirmed they had died from gunshot wounds.
They were the first fatalities since the anti-government protests flared up in late November over Mr Yanukovych’s decision to pull out of a landmark treaty with the EU.
Late on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Radio Liberty reported the death of a third activist.
The body of Yuri Verbitsky was found in a forest outside Kiev, bearing signs of torture, according to the broadcaster.
He had reportedly been abducted earlier this week with activist Igor Lutsenk, who was later released. Mr Lutsenko is said to be in hospital.
Hundreds of people have been injured in the clashes, though some of the violence has been blamed on a little-known far-right group, Right Sector.
Wednesday’s unrest came on the day that new anti-protest laws entered into force. Parliament approved the laws last week, triggering renewed protests which spilled into violence on Sunday night.
‘Ready to agree’
The centre of Kiev remains extremely tense, the BBC’s Daniel Sandford reports.
As dawn broke on Thursday, the barricades were still burning, billowing black smoke from the piles of tyres that now mark the front line between the riot police and the protestors.
Speaking at a mass rally on Wednesday evening, Mr Klitschko said the president could end the stand-off “without bloodshed” by calling early elections, but that “tomorrow, if the president does not respond… then we will go on the attack”, to roars of approval from the crowd.
Mr Klitschko said police were preparing to clear demonstrators out of the main protest encampment at Maidan (or Independence Square).
“We must do all we can to stop them clearing us out,” he told demonstrators.
Another opposition leader, Arseniy Yatseniuk, said the government had 24 hours to respond to the demands, which also include the lifting of the new anti-protest laws.
“If this does not happen, we will march forward together. If it’s a bullet to the head, then it’s a bullet to the head,” he declared.
But the prime minister said opposition leaders should be “more humble”.
“The opposition leaders should move away from the language of ultimatums,” Mr Azarov said.
“We are ready to compromise, to agree. The opposition leaders should understand that they also bear responsibility in avoiding a civil war, and bloodshed, and so does the government.”
Wounded in crush
Wednesday’s violence began in a small area around Hrushevskyy Street, a road leading to government buildings close to the protest camp at Maidan.
Police stormed the protesters’ barricades on Hrushevskyy Street shortly after 08:00 (06:00 GMT).
Security forces later fell back to their positions after fierce clashes with protesters, but by the afternoon had pushed on through the barricades.
Protesters again hurled petrol bombs and stones while riot police responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets, the BBC’s Duncan Crawford reports.
Thousands of protesters also gathered in Independence Square.Kiev presented an apocalyptic vision on Wednesday evening, as protesters continued to set tyres on fireRiot police responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets to demonstrators hurling petrol bombs
There was a crush at one of the narrow entrances into the square when protesters trying to get in met protesters who were trying to get out to fight the police, our correspondent says.
At least two ambulances were seen carrying away the wounded.
Officials confirmed two bodies were found with bullet wounds close to the scene of the clashes.
One of them is thought to be Sergei Nigoyan, a 20-year-old ethnic Armenian who allegedly joined the protests in Kiev in early December.
Another man was also reported to have died after falling from the top of the Dynamo football stadium. But a spokeswoman for Kiev’s health department said he had survived the fall and was being treated in the hospital.
Mr Azarov denied that the police were responsible for the deaths, saying they were not carrying live ammunition.
They “remain on the consciousness and responsibility of the organisers and certain participants of mass disturbances”, he said.
Many of the protesters have been wearing helmets and facemasks in defiance of the new laws that ban the wearing of such headgear at protests.
The laws also prescribe jail terms for anyone blockading public buildings and outlaw unauthorised tents in public areas.
The European Union said it would “rethink” its relationship with the Ukraine “if there is a systematic violation of human rights, including shooting at peaceful demonstrators or serious attacks to the basic freedoms”.
The US also strongly condemned the escalating situation.
“Increased tensions in Ukraine are a direct consequence of the Ukrainian government’s failure to engage in real dialogue and the passage of anti-democratic legislation,” a US state department spokeswoman said.
Russia has accused the EU and US of “outside interference” in Ukrainian affairs.
“The extremist part of the opposition is crudely violating the country’s constitution,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Ukraine said it had revoked the visas of “several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence”. It did not give names, but said it was “considering further action against those responsible for the current violence”.