Cease-Fire in Kiev as Opposition Leaders Meet With President

Jan 23rd, 2014 | By | Category: News

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN JAN. 23, 2014

Protesters took cover as water was sprayed from a fire engine on Thursday at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Protesters took cover as water was sprayed from a fire engine on Thursday at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

KIEV, Ukraine — After another night of clashes, protesters battling the police in the Ukrainian capital agreed to a temporary cease-fire on Thursday as opposition leaders planned to attend a second round of negotiations with President Viktor F. Yanukovich.

More than three hours of face-to-face talks on Wednesday afternoon yielded no progress and the opposition leaders have threatened an escalation of violence if Mr. Yanukovich does not agree to early presidential elections or make another major concession.

Earlier in the week, the three main opposition leaders — Vitali Klitschko of the Udar Party, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, and Oleg Tyagnibok of the nationalist Svoboda Party — had spoken out against the violence, and urged continued peaceful protest focused on presidential elections scheduled for February 2015.

On Wednesday, however, after the fruitless initial round of talks with Mr. Yanukovich and other senior officials, the leaders said they were prepared to embrace the violent uprising. They issued an ultimatum, demanding a concession from Mr. Yanukovich within 24 hours.

“Tomorrow we will go forward together,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said. “If there will be a bullet in the forehead, so be it. It will be an honest, just and brave action.” Mr. Klitschko said, “Tomorrow, if the president won’t listen to us we will go into attack. There is no other way.”

The protests in Ukraine, which began in late November, turned deadly for the first time on Wednesday. The General Prosecutor’s office confirmed that two men had been shot to death during battles with the police. A coordinator of medical services for the opposition has put the death toll at five, including two other shooting victims and a man who fell from the colonnaded entrance to the Dynamo soccer stadium, which protesters had climbed to hurl rocks and fire bombs.

There were also signs on Thursday that protest activity was stepping up in Western Ukraine, which is a stronghold of support for greater integration with Europe and is home to many of the demonstrators on the streets of Kiev. In Lviv, the biggest city in the West, protesters occupied the regional administration building and Ukrainian news media reported that the head of the regional administration had resigned.

The news site Ukrainska Pravda reported a similar action in the city of Rivne, where it said that several thousand protesters had broken through glass doors and occupied the headquarters of the regional administration.

The demonstrators in Kiev represent a motley cross-section of the Ukrainian population, who in many cases are united only by their opposition to Mr. Yanukovich and their outrage over the government’s treatment of demonstrators and its efforts to suppress political dissent.

Many of the men on the front line of the violent conflict with the authorities hail from Western Ukraine and are supporters of Svoboda, the nationalist faction in Parliament led by Mr. Tyagnibok, or other even further right-leaning groups, including an organization called Right Factor.

But those willing to risk being close to the violence are supported by thousands more who confine their activities to Independence Square, which has been occupied since Dec. 1. There, the heavily barricaded square remains peaceful, with a stage where opposition leaders make speeches and a tent city where many demonstrators have been living.

The occupied Trade Unions building there serves as a makeshift headquarters, with a press center and a ground floor kitchen that keeps the demonstrators well -fed. On Wednesday, volunteers outside the building’s entrance were sorting through piles of shopping bags of medication and first aid supplies that had been donated to treat victims of the violence. Nearby, protesters with sledgehammers and pickaxes broke apart the cobblestones on the square and bagged them to be used as weapons against the police, in the conflict zone about a quarter-mile away.

The Interior Ministry on Thursday confirmed the death of an opposition activist, Yuriy Verbytsky, who was kidnapped earlier this week, along with an opposition leader, Igor Lutsenko, from a hospital in Kiev.

Mr. Lutsenko was released by his captors in woods on the outskirts of Kiev, and has written on a Facebook page that he was held in a shed-like building and at various points believed he was going to be killed. At one point, he said, he was forced to kneel with a bag over his head and told to pray. His captors inexplicably vanished and he fled through the woods.

The two confirmed shooting victims from the clashes with police in Kiev have been identified by local news media as Serhiy Nihoyan, 20, a Ukrainian citizen who was born in Armenia and had lived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykhaylo Zhyznevsky, from the neighboring country of Belarus. The Belarussian authorities have said they are awaiting information from the Ukrainian government.

The kidnapping of Mr. Lutsenko, and Mr. Verbytsky, who was later found dead, was part of a chilling pattern of abductions and assaults against opposition figures.

Ukrainian news media on Thursday reported yet another disappearance — of Dmitry Bulatov, the head of a motorist protest group called AutoMaidan, which has led vehicle caravans in demonstrations against the government.

There were also signs of mounting international consternation over the situation in Ukraine and renewed calls, including by the United States, for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The European Union said that its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, would visit Kiev next week.

Meanwhile, Stefan Fule, the European official who had been leading efforts to strengthen ties with Ukraine through new political and free trade agreements, was expected to arrive in Kiev on Saturday.

On Wednesday, hundreds of pro-government demonstrators surrounded the United States Embassy in Kiev to denounce what they described as meddling in Ukrainian affairs.

The United States and its Western European allies have made no secret of their sympathy and support for the protesters in Ukraine. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, are among the high-level American officials who have visited Independence Square to show support for the demonstrators occupying it.

The United States has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution and earlier this week announced it would impose visa restrictions on unnamed Ukrainian officials connected to the violence against protesters. The United States and Europe have said they would consider further action if the violence in Ukraine worsened.

Oksana Lyachynska contributed reporting.

Source: The New York Times

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