KIEV, Ukraine – Riot police and anti-government protesters confronted one another throughout the night on the snow-slicked streets of Ukraine’s capital and a top opposition party said heavily-armed security forces broke into its offices and seized computer servers.
An opposition leader, Oleh Tyanhybok, was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying several protesters were injured in one of the confrontations, in which police tore down small tent encampments blocking access to government buildings. There were no immediate official figures on injuries, but the incident today appeared to be less violent than the club-swinging police dispersals of demonstrators a week and a half ago that galvanized anger.
The protests, in their third week, started after President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from signing an agreement on deepening ties with the European Union. Police violence against those demonstrations outraged many and drove hundreds of thousands of people into the streets the past two Sundays, turnouts larger even than the mass protests of the 2004 Orange Revolution that forced a rerun of a fraudulent presidential election.
The police moves on Monday and today were against encampments set up after Sunday’s rally and no action was taken against the extensive main camp on Kiev’s central Independence Square, where crowds gather around the clock.
Authorities also appeared to have tried a deceptive feint against protesters who have occupied the city administration building and turned it into a makeshift headquarters and dormitory. A court order said the building was to be vacated by midnight and about that time, the electricity was turned off, leading to fears that police were ready to storm the site.
“People didn’t know what to expect, so they left,” said Ivan Kerkosh, who had been inside.
But about three hours later, the electricity was restored and protesters returned inside.
The EU’s foreign policy chief is due in Kiev today to try to help defuse tensions.
The nighttime confrontations, where protesters gingerly made their way on hilly streets where the day’s heavy snowfall was trodden into ice, were tense and angry, but the rally on Independence Square retained an air of merriment. On Monday night, Ostap Semerak of the Fatherland Party told the Associated Press that troops broke into the party’s offices. The troops left after confiscating some computer equipment, he said. The party is headed by imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a longstanding foe of Yanukovych, and is the largest opposition grouping in the parliament. Critics say Tymoshenko’s conviction on abuse of office charges was a case of political revenge.
In a surprise move, Yanukovych announced he would sit down with three former Ukrainian presidents today to discuss a way out of the crisis that has paralyzed the country. They include Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated Yanukovych in the election forced by the 2004 protests.