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Anti-government protests have been underway in Ukraine, often resulting in violent clashes, since the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union at a Vilnius summit in November 2013, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.
A new wave of riots started in Kiev on Tuesday morning after opposition supporters tried to march to the building of Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, in support of a constitutional reform cutting presidential powers.
The Foreign Ministry said in its Wednesday statement that Ukraine’s leaders “confirmed by their substantial practical actions their adherence to peace settlement of the political crisis in constructive dialogue with the opposition,” but that opposition leaders “sent radically minded protest participants to block Ukraine’s parliament by force and urged them to start armed struggle.”
“So, the opposition took the entire responsibility for an unprecedented outburst of violence and lawlessness,” the statement said.
“Radical forces armed with weapons attacked and seized administrative and public buildings in Kiev, Ternopol, Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk, Rovno and other cities, set houses and cars on fire, destroyed other property,” it said.
“It was for the first time that such unlawful actions were made with the use of firearms and were accompanied by attacks on law enforcement officers with the aim of inflicting grievous bodily harm on them,” it said.
These actions, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said, “caused clashes and entailed deaths on the part of both protesters and law enforcement officers.”
“It is important today to do everything possible to stop further violence, restore law and order and normalize the situation,” the ministry said.
“The Ukrainian president clearly stated that he believes the negotiating table to be the most effective means of settling the conflict and restoring public accord. At this decisive moment, we hope for the most responsible position of Ukraine’s international partners, first and foremost, to prevent actions that may… contribute to further escalation of confrontation in Ukraine,” it said.
The statement said the international community should “decisively condemn all manifestations of extremism and firmly support the efforts made by representatives of the political process aimed at stopping enmity and resuming the negotiating process.”
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said Wednesday 24 people had been killed and 751 injured in the latest wave of clashes in the country.
Meanwhile, acting Health Minister Raisa Bogatyryova said the death toll had risen to 26. “Ten of those killed are Interior Ministry officers, and the rest are protesters,” she said.
The Kiev state city administration reported Wednesday that out of those injured, 263 were hospitalized, including 86 law enforcers, six journalists and one MP.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov resigned on January 28, and the Ukrainian leadership decided to pardon participants in riots on condition protesters vacated state and local power institutions they seized. The amnesty law entered into force February 2, but opposition leaders reacted defiantly.
Protesters had time until February 17 to vacate seized state and local power institutions, unblock Grushevsky Street in downtown Kiev near Maidan and other streets and squares across the country except those where peaceful protest rallies were being held.
Meanwhile, Kiev’s police reported Tuesday that the building of the city state administration had been seized again by protesters who threw Molotov cocktails. Earlier, protesters held the building for over 2.5 months, but vacated it on February 16 to observe the amnesty law.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reported Wednesday that 40 criminal cases had been opened in the country over riots.
“It concerns both the capital and regions. Twenty-four criminal proceedings were registered in Kiev. In particular, for premeditated murders, organization of mass riots, attempts to kill law enforcement officers,” the ministry said.
“Proceedings were also launched on cases of seizure of administrative buildings, mass riots and arsons of administrative buildings in the Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk, Volyn and Rovno regions,” said Oleg Tatarov, a deputy chief of the ministry’s main investigation department.
He said 77 people had been brought to police stations, with 58 of them detained.