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Anti-protest laws take effect in Ukraine as violence prevails

By Agencies in Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-22 08:20

Controversial anti-protest laws that sparked unprecedented riots in Ukraine took effect on Tuesday as the latest standoff between thousands of protesters and anti-riot police in Kiev moved into a third day.

The new laws, which ban nearly all forms of protest, were published in the newspaper of the Ukranian parliament after a warning from President Viktor Yanukovych that the violence threatened the entire country.

They allow for jail terms of up to five years for those who blockade public buildings and the arrest of protesters wearing masks or helmets.

Other provisions ban the dissemination of "slander" on the Internet.

The new laws came despite calls from the West and the opposition to scrap the legislation, raising fears that authorities could use the restrictions to resort to violence to disperse the protests.

Clashes on Sunday and Monday, which followed two months of protests, turned the center of the capital Kiev into chaos as some 10,000 demonstrators battled security forces.

Fireworks and stun grenades lit up the night sky while the deafening drumming of protesters with sticks echoed through the streets.

The violence is unprecedented in a country where the "Orange revolution" in 2004 overturned a presidential poll and forced a new ballot.

The clashes erupted after a rally of 200,000 people against the restrictions on protesting was pushed through by Yanukovych supporters in parliament on Sunday.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Yanukovych warned that the violence threatened the foundations of the entire country, which is divided between the pro-European west and the pro-Russian east.

"I am convinced that such phenomena are a threat not only to the public in Kiev but all of Ukraine," he said, indicating his patience was wearing thin.

"I treated your participation in mass rallies with understanding, I expressed readiness to find ways to solve the existing contradictions."

The opposition, led by three politicians including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, said it was ready for dialogue but stressed it wanted to hold talks with Yanukovych, not his aides.

The government set up a special commission to address the crisis.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka warned protesters to halt "mass rioting", describing it as a crime against the state.

Protests began after Yanukovych's refusal to sign a pact for closer integration with the EU in November.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged European governments on Tuesday not to interfere in events in Ukraine, where Moscow fears a political crisis may be spinning out of control.

"We would prefer that some of our European colleagues refrained from acting unceremoniously over the Ukrainian crisis, when, without any kind of invitation, members of certain European governments rush to the Maidan (central square), take part in anti-government demonstrations in a country with which they have diplomatic relations," he told a news conference. "It is just distasteful."

With more than 200 people injured so far, thousands of Ukrainians braved temperatures of - 10 C to take part in the standoff with police.

According to Kiev health authorities, more than 100 protesters were wounded in the violence.

Health officials said three people lost eyes and one person had his hand amputated, health officials said.

The Interior Ministry said more than 100 members of the security forces had been wounded.

The ministry added that several dozen people had been arrested for mass rioting.

In the epicenter of the clashes outside the entrance to the iconic Dynamo Kiev football stadium in central Kiev, both sides hunkered down behind barricades on Monday.

Protesters lobbed stones dug up from the cobbled road, flung Molotov cocktails and threw fireworks over a 20-meter no-man's land at police lines.


 Anti-protest laws take effect in Ukraine as violence prevails

A pro-European integration protester catches fire during clashes with police in Kiev on Monday. Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

Anti-protest laws take effect in Ukraine as violence prevails

(China Daily 01/22/2014 page11)

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