Violence Rages in Ukraine for Second Straight Day
Violence rocked central Kiev for the second night in a row Tuesday, as unrest continues over the government's plans to reject an offer to join the European Union (EU).
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed some European politicians for encouraging the protests, warning the situation was "getting out of control". His words echoed the sentiments of President Viktor Yanukovych, who cautioned that the violence threatened Ukraine's basic stability.
The extent of the unrest is evident in video footage, which shows protestors - at one point numbering over 100,000 - violently pushing against police barricades and even lighting them on fire. CNN notes that these are the most vicious clashes in a protest movement raging since early December.
The new clashes broke out Monday after police forces blocked a crowd of dissidents from marching toward the Parliament. The protestors had been demonstrating against legislation passed last week limiting the right to free protest, leading to more concerns that Ukraine is sliding back to the authoritarianism of its communist past.
The laws, which were reportedly rushed through Parliament at the last minute, prescribe jail terms for anyone blockading public buildings, ban wearing masks or helmets at demonstrations, and make statements against the government a crime. The laws are set to come into effect Wednesday, according to local news.
Monday night's protests saw police using rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons - despite sub-zero temperatures, according to CNN. Over 100 were injured; of those, 3 have been blinded and one lost an arm.
BBC noted Tuesday that so far, more than 80 police staff have required hospitalization; 32 protestors have been arrested; and 13 face serious criminal charges, with sentences of up to 15 years for "disturbing the peace."
The British news outlet noted that the violence is confined to one central square - yet it has raged out of control, and local authorities have been unable to keep the outrage contained.
Protests have snowballed as word spreads about the brutality of riot police, some of whom have allegedly beat bystanders at random. Fires have broken out and the sounds of stun grenades and explosions can be clearly heard echoing through the square.
After the escalation, the Ukrainian government has begun to attempt to quiet the uprising.
President Yanukovych stated on his website, "I ask you not to join those who seek violence, who are trying to create a division between the state and society and who want to hurl the Ukrainian people into a pit of mass disorder."
"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."
Yanukovych has also expressed willingness to meet with opposition leaders to resolve the crisis. Preparations for a meeting are reportedly underway.