Kiev unrest: protesters free captive policemen, cease clashes
Everything is quiet in the streets now. Aggressively minded citizens do not make noise banging on metal objects. The police have stopped the water cannons. A pile of tires, separating the line of the police officers from the protesters, continues to burn. Through the smoke it is possible to see new units of policemen coming to help their colleagues.
Earlier it was reported that after a lull, the clashes between the radicals and soldiers of internal troops and special forces of the Interior Ministry in the Hrushevsky Street were resumed.
The radicals climbed the roofs of burnt down police buses, which separate them from the policemen. They threw fragments of granite at the guards of order; the police from time to time answered with flash-bang grenades.
Besides, demonstrators burnt car tires. The black smoke obstructed police officers’ view. Water cannons were being used by police to put out flames.
It was circa 8° C below zero in Kiev so water coming out of cannons promptly turned into ice.
Ten protesters are said to have been taken to hospital over the past 24 hours.
The number of Ukrainian internal forces’ servicemen injured in the course of clashes with protesters has reached 65, the Interior Ministry informs on its website. Earlier, there were reports about 57 wounded servicemen.
According to the Ministry, servicemen happened to have a range of traumas, including contusions, closed craniocerebral injuries, concussions, burns and bruising legs and arms. The injured are being treated at the Interior Ministry’s hospital.
Both policemen whom protesters had held hostage in the Kiev city administration building were released on Saturday, the interior minister said, claiming the officers "were tortured" during their captivity.
"I want to thank all those who were involved in the release of the two police officers whom so-called 'guards of the Maidan' seized and held captive in the building of the Kiev City State Administration. Peaceful protesters and ambassadors of foreign states helped us in the negotiation process. The captive law enforcers were tortured and are in hospital at the moment," Vitaly Zakharchenko said in a statement posted on his ministry's website.
"Maidan," "square" in Ukrainian, is a colloquial name for the pro-European Union movement derived from Independence Square in Kiev, the main site of pro-EU protests.
"This is not the first instance of riots inside occupied buildings where extremists beat and torture people," Zakharchenko said.
"If you really are patriots and want to preserve our country," the minister said in addressing opposition leaders, "show political maturity and wisdom."
"This is not a war game. There are real victims here - policemen are burning alive, and extremists are shooting people. They hide behind the backs of children and women, they need chaos," he said.
"Leave the radicals alone, no one would try to prevent peaceful protests, move over to another, secure place," Zakharchenko said.
"As minister of internal affairs, I guarantee assistance to you in this from the police and security for peaceful rallies."
"As for those who stay on Independence Square, we will consider them extremist groups. If any danger arises and the radicals become active, we will have to use force," the minister said.
According to a police report, on Friday evening members of the "self-defense of the Maidan" attacked three policemen on Independence Square, stabbing on one of them and taking the other two hostage.
The so-called "National Resistance Committee" claimed the report was a provocative hoax.
Ukraine's presidency announced on Saturday that President Viktor Yanukovych was currently meeting with three key opposition leaders in seeking a solution to Ukraine's deep political crisis.
The president's office said in a statement that Yanukovych's chief and deputy chief of staff, Andriy Klyuyev and Andriy Portnov, and Justice Minister Olena Lukash were present at the president's meeting with Vitali Klitschko of the UDAR party, Arseny Yatsenyuk of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Oleh Tyahnybok of Svoboda (Freedom).
Klyuyev heads the government-appointed crisis settlement working group.The three opposition leaders head their parties' groups in parliament.
The legislature of Lviv region has declared the so-called Narodna Rada (People's Council), set up by pro-European Union protesters, to be the supreme body legitimately representing Ukraine's people.
The Lviv Regional Council, where parties opposed to Ukraine's government hold the majority of seats, issued a ban on any armed action by army troops, police or other security forces aimed at preventing people from exercising their right to peaceful meetings. After that, the legislature voted to disband the regional executive administration and gave the go-ahead to setting up an executive committee to replace it.
The committee was composed of heads of Regional Council commissions. Council chief Petro Kolodiy was appointed as provisional head of the committee.
Ukrainian Interior Minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, claims the opposition is stock-piling firearms in the Kiev City Administration building and that a conflict between different protester groups is worsening.
"The events of the last several days in the capital of Ukraine have shown that our attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully, without resorting to forcible confrontation, were futile. Our calls have not been heard, and the truce agreement has been broken," Zakharchenko said in an open statement on Saturday.
"Information obtained by the law enforcement agencies indicates that firearms are being stock-piled at the Trade Unions House and the Kiev City Administration building," Zakharchenko said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has fired Oleksandr Popov as head of the Kiev City Administration and appointed parliamentarian Volodymyr Makeyenko of the Party of Regions in his place, in line with decrees published on the presidential website on Saturday.
Before the appointment, Makeyenko headed the Verkhovna Rada committee on the rules of procedure, parliamentary ethics, and parliamentary functions.
Popov was suspended as the Kiev City Administration head after the special police task force Berkut dispersed an opposition rally on Independence Square in Kiev on November 30, 2013.
In Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital, where a mass opposition rally is taking place, three law enforcement officers were captured on Friday evening.
According to Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs, "the so-called security on Independence Square attacked three police officers who were on duty." One of them was stabbed.
It is reported that the captured policemen were held in the Kiev City State Administration building, which is under opposition control.
The wounded policeman has already been released and hospitalized. The fate of the other two policemen is still unknown, reported MIA.
Mass unrest has resumed in Grushevsky street in the center of Kiev. Stones and Molotov cocktails are being hurled at police.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a special statement that "despite prolonged negotiations between the opposition and the authorities, as well as preliminary truce agreements, some radical groups beyond the protest leaders’ control have resumed attempts to provoke police into using force".
Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko told the public and Interior Ministry personnel that the police were prepared for a peace settlement to the conflict on condition that previously concluded agreements were observed.
"These calls fell on the rioters’ deaf ears," the Interior Ministry said.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has warned Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko, a member of the national parliament, he may be indicted on criminal charges for threats against law enforcement officials.
"Murder or violence threats against police, as well as their relatives, in any way related to performing official duties is punishable as a criminal offence," the Interior Ministry said.
The corresponding article of Ukraine’s Criminal Code is applicable to Lyashko’s public calls on TV for detaining police, the statement runs.
An agreed cessation of hostilities in Kiev is at risk. The protesters are building barricades in downtown Kiev despite the recent decision to look for ways to settle the crisis in the next day or two. The agreement was reached following four-hour talks between Ukraine's President Victor Yanukovych and opposition leaders.
President Viktor Yanukovych proposed to free detained protesters in return for a temporary cease-fire but amid deep uncertainty that antigovernment demonstrators would accept the tentative deal.
"The sides discussed the need to immediately vacate illegally seized buildings, a possible amnesty campaign and other issues that may be debated during a special [parliamentary] session, which won approval from the participants in the talks," Ukrainian Justice Minister Olena Lukash, who is also a member of the group looking for a solution to the current political crisis in Ukraine, said in a statement, published on the president's website.
Protesters began erecting fresh barricades around their camp in central Kiev in the early hours of Friday after heckling opposition leaders who emerged from a four-hour meeting with the Ukrainian leader with a potential compromise aimed at halting violent clashes with police.
Vitaly Klitschko, leader of the party "UDAR" (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms), when speaking before opposition supporters who gathered in Independence Square here early Friday, called for a "general strike".
"Today's authorities have to face a general strike! If we stick together, it will be impossible to defeat us. We shall live in a new Ukraine even this year," the oppositionist declared.
Klitschko's speech was accompanied with calls "to launch an attack" and "go only forward".
Opposition leaders continue to addresss those present, telling them about the outcome of talks with President Viktor Yanukovych. Their speeches are interrupted by protesters' shouts and whistling.
Voice of Russia, Interfax, RIA, AFP,