Ukraine president warns Kiev protesters amid clashes

The BBC's Daniel Sandford said protesters "rained fireworks onto police officers' heads" in Kiev

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has warned that the country's stability is threatened by continuing clashes between police and anti-government protesters in the capital Kiev.

A burnt-out line of buses and trucks in central Kiev marks the boundary between protesters and police.

Clashes erupted on Sunday, after many more demonstrators rallied peacefully against President Viktor Yanukovych.

The authorities say police have the right to use firearms in self-defence.

In a statement on Monday evening, President Yanukovych said that "now, when peaceful actions are turning into mass unrest, accompanied by riots and arson attacks, the use of violence, I am convinced that such phenomena are a threat not only to Kiev but to the whole of Ukraine".

Arrests

Last week the president's supporters in the Ukrainian parliament gave police extra powers to tackle demonstrators.

At least 30 people have been arrested in the clashes, and about 100 injured, including dozens of police officers.

Protesters fighting police in Kiev, 20 Jan 14 Part of central Kiev resembled a battlefield on Monday
Riot police in Kiev, 20 Jan 14 Police fired plastic bullets and stun grenades at the armed protesters
Protesters fire flare at police in Kiev, 20 Jan 14 Fireworks were part of the protesters' armoury. Yet many more protesters had rallied peacefully on Sunday.
Protesters fighting police in Kiev, 20 Jan 14 Some tore up cobblestones to hurl at police - some of whom threw the stones back again

The violence followed weeks of mainly peaceful action against Kiev's decision to spurn a political agreement with the EU, and then to toughen anti-protest laws.

President Yanukovych says he is now ready to negotiate with opposition leaders. A cross-party commission has been set up to try to resolve the crisis.

Former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was injured in clashes earlier this month, is among four representatives of the opposition who will be taking part in the talks with the authorities, according to the website for Ukraine's Fatherland Party.

Hurled cobblestones

On the road leading from Europe Square to parliament, riot police stood behind shields on Monday, lined up against dozens of protesters who had camped out overnight despite temperatures dropping well below freezing.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford, at the scene, says some protesters hurled cobblestones and petrol bombs at police, while supporters banged on lamp posts and oil drums.

The police have been firing plastic bullets, tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and even throwing back the cobblestones, he reports.

EU foreign ministers also released a statement on Monday expressing "deep concern" about the new legislation, which they said was passed under "doubtful procedural circumstances".

"These legislative acts would significantly restrict the Ukrainian citizens' fundamental rights of association, media and the press, and seriously curtail the activities of civil society organisations," they said, following a monthly meeting.

The measures, which were hastily voted through on Thursday, include:

  • A ban on the unauthorised installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places
  • Provision to arrest protesters wearing masks or helmets
  • A ban on protests involving more than five vehicles in convoy
  • Hefty fines or jail for breaches of law

The governing party of President Yanukovych says the legislation is in line with European standards.

Both the government and opposition leaders appeared to blame a small group of protesters - reportedly far-right activists - for starting the violence on Sunday.

They are believed to belong the little known nationalist organisation Right Sector, according to local media.

The group is not thought to support the idea of Ukraine joining the EU, but is against the government and sees the current unrest as an opportunity "to destroy the state skeleton", according to the BBC's Ukrainian Service.

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