Ukrainian protesters occupy govt buildings in Kiev

Associated Press
Riot police officers block a street in front of barricades of protesters at the monument to Viacheslav Chornovil, a prominent politician in Ukraine and a former Soviet political prisoner, in central Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Protesters have seized a government building in the Ukrainian capital while also maintaining the siege of several governors' offices in the country's west, raising the pressure on the government. After meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday, opposition leaders told the crowds that he has promised to ensure the release of dozens of protesters detained after clashes with police and stop further detentions. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian protesters seized a government ministry in the capital and besieged several governors' offices in western regions Friday, raising the pressure on the country's Russia-leaning government. But President Viktor Yanukovych showed little willingness to negotiate, promoting his hawkish top aide to his chief-of-staff.

The seizures could complicate talks between opposition leaders and Yanukovych, who has demanded the demonstrators leave other administrative buildings in Kiev that they have occupied for nearly two months. The opposition wants Yanukovych to resign in favor of a new election.

Yanukovych appeared in no mood for compromise, promoting Andriy Kluyev, whom the opposition holds responsible for violence against protesters, to be his chief-of-staff.

Some opposition leaders had expressed hope for negotiations after meeting with Yanukovych for several hours late Thursday, telling the crowd that he had promised to stop detaining protesters and to release dozens of them already in custody. They urged the protesters to maintain a shaky truce that has followed violent street battles in Kiev so as to avoid further bloodshed.

But the opposition leaders were booed by some demonstrators eager to resume clashes with police.

The truce largely held Friday, but early in the day protesters broke into the downtown Ministry of Agricultural Policy, meeting no resistance. The demonstrators let ministry workers take their possessions but wouldn't let them work.

"We need to keep people warm in the frost," explained protester Andriy Moiseenko, referring to temperatures that dip to -20 degrees Centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit) overnight. "We cannot have people sleeping in tents all the time."

The protests began two months ago after Yanukovych abruptly ditched an association agreement with the European Union in favor of a bailout loan from Russia. The protests have been largely peaceful, but they turned violent Sunday after Yanukovych pushed through harsh anti-protest laws.

At the barricades Friday outside a government district in Kiev — where fires had raged and rocks had flown for days — dozens of middle-aged women approached police lines chanting, "you are our children!" and "No more mothers' tears!"

One of them, 48-year-old Oksana Tikhomirova, wept as she urged riot police to stop the violence.

"All of these are our children. Both ... the protesters and the riot police are sons of Ukraine," she said. "I have seen people killed and maimed and we must stop that. The violence must stop."

Policemen listened calmly and did not react.

In western Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych is virtually non-existent, protesters retained control of the regional governors' offices they had seized Thursday in several cities.

In Lviv, 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of Kiev, occupying protesters prevented employees from entering the building after forcing the governor, a Yanukovych appointee, to resign. The governor, Oleh Salo, later retracted his signature, saying he was coerced.

Protesters also retained control of offices in at least two other western cities but suffered a setback in Cherkasy, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Kiev, where police barricaded the governor's building from the inside and prevented them from taking control Friday. Police reinforcements arrived later, dispersing the protesters and arresting several dozen.

Yanukovych has called an emergency session of parliament for next Tuesday discuss the tensions, though since it is controlled by his allies the move appeared largely an attempt to buy time.

Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko issued a statement late Thursday saying police would not take action against the large protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan. His office issued a new statement Friday, saying it was screening as many as 1,000 protesters on suspicion that they were involved in radical groups responsible for grave crimes.

Two people were fatally shot Wednesday in clashes with police in Kiev, the first deaths since the protests began. The opposition has blamed the deaths on authorities, while Prime Minister Mykola Azarov says that's impossible since the deaths were caused by hunting rifles which the police do not use.

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