Ukrainian siege of 'pro-Russian' Inter TV studios ends

Police at fence next to Inter TV building, 5 Sep 16 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The siege of the Inter TV studios - seen here - drew international condemnation

Ukrainian protesters have lifted a blockade of Inter TV, a news channel in Kiev attacked by arsonists for being allegedly pro-Russian.

One protester, a volunteer soldier called Olexiy Seredyuk, told the BBC that the blockade would resume in five days' time if Inter TV reneged on a pledge to "change its news content".

A statement (in Russian) from Inter TV said there was no such agreement but confirmed that the blockade was over.

Staff fled a blaze at the TV on Sunday.

President Petro Poroshenko has ordered Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate the arson attack, which drew condemnation from the EU, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ).

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said a "free and independent media is essential" in a democracy, and "violence is an unacceptable response to a disagreement over editorial policy".

Ukrainian officials accuse Russia of arming pro-Russian separatists who control a swathe of eastern Ukraine, and of spreading propaganda in the media.

Inter TV said some of its staff needed hospital treatment for smoke inhalation and one suffered a broken leg after fleeing the fire on Sunday.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some protesters camped outside the TV studios, but on Tuesday afternoon they took their tents down
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionVideo footage shows four men being wrestled to the ground and arrested by police in Sunday's unrest

A metal fence was erected outside the TV offices, daubed with the slogans "Burn, Inter, burn!" and "Russia is here!"

Protesters' tents have been removed from the scene, but piles of tyres remain there.

Olexiy Seredyuk, of the Ukrainian volunteer battalion Svyataya Maria (Holy Mary), said the activists had also told Inter TV to sack a Russian senior news editor, Igor Shuvalov.

But the Inter TV statement said there had been no negotiations with the protesters. Those who caused the fire in Sunday were "terrorists", it said, demanding that they be prosecuted.

The blockade ended, Inter TV said, after pressure from Ukrainian security forces, public opinion and the actions of journalists. The channel had continued broadcasting despite the disruption by activists.

Inter TV's Russian connections - by Vitaliy Shevchenko, BBC Monitoring:

Despite Inter's firmly pro-Ukrainian tone in covering the hostilities in the east, the channel has long faced accusations of pursuing a pro-Russian agenda.

It is one of Ukraine's most popular TV channels, co-owned by fugitive tycoon Dmytro Firtash and two former officials linked to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. They are: Serhiy Lyovochkin (formerly Mr Yanukovych's chief of staff, now an Opposition Bloc MP) and Valeriy Khoroshkovsky (security chief under Mr Yanukovych).

Mr Firtash is reported to have close links with Russia through his gas firms and is wanted by the FBI on suspicion of bribing officials in India in order to get titanium mining permits.

He was briefly arrested in Austria in March 2014, but the US attempt to have him extradited failed. Mr Firtash denies the charges as politically motivated.

In February 2016, protests erupted after one of Inter's senior producers - Mariya Stolyarova, a Russian citizen - was caught swearing on air during a report about the deaths of anti-Yanukovych protesters in 2014.

Controversy flared up again in August, after an apparent email leak suggested that Inter's editors co-ordinated news coverage with separatists in eastern Ukraine. Later that month, Inter's Ukrainian Independence Day concert provoked outrage by featuring Russian artists who openly backed the Kremlin's policy towards Ukraine.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.