Ukraine protests: Tensions soar as rival factions face off in Kiev
President’s supporters bussed in to side against thousands fighting Ukraine’s move away from EU
Thousands of supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych descended on to the streets of Kiev today in a face-off with anti-government protesters preparing for a mass rally today, as the country faced another weekend of simmering tension.
As the unrest over Mr Yanukovych’s decision to step away from signing a pact with the EU and turn back to long-term ally Russia stretched into another week, authorities announced that four officials would be investigated over last month’s police crackdown on protesters. The move seemed designed to placate opposition demonstrators.
Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said the deputy head of the national security council, the head of the Kiev city administration, the former head of Kiev police and his deputy are being investigated on suspicion of abuse of office, over allegations that police beat demonstrators.
The investigation was one of the key demands of the opposition protest leaders, who were themselves gathered behind barricades in the city ahead of today’s demonstration which aims to bring hundreds of thousands of anti-government sympathisers on to the streets.
Opposition supporters have grown in number since the protests in Independence Square began last month. Today, the two sides were again separated by a heavy police presence. The pro-government supporters are in a nearby square; some told the Associated Press that they had been paid and bussed in by officials.
Both sides appeared to be in no mood to back down. “We are here to support the President and order,” said Maria Nikolayeva,18. But Oleh, a 22-year-old engineering student and opposition supporter, told Reuters that the protests would continue for “as long as it takes”, adding, “I’m here for Europe and against Yanukovych. The [EU] association is our chance to rid Ukraine of corruption.”
Mr Yanukovych’s concessions can in part be traced to increased international attention on the protests. The US has stated it will be watching the rallies carefully, particularly after an attempt by police in the past few days to dismantle barricades erected by opposition demonstrators. The barriers have since been rebuilt.
Senator John McCain has said he will meet all sides over the weekend as he tours the protest sites. “If Ukraine’s government thinks brute force and the politics of fear can see it through the current crisis, it is woefully mistaken,” he wrote last week.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Kiev last week, has insisted that Mr Yanukovych still wants to sign the deal with Europe. The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has criticised such visits as “interference” in the affairs of a sovereign state.
On Friday, at round-table talks between Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders, including heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, Mr Yanukovych offered an amnesty for all those arrested in the three-week long protests and a “moratorium” on actions by police and security forces.
But Klitschko warned that the government would be unwise to break up today’s protest. “It will have terrible consequences,” he said.
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