KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — After a night of vicious street battles, anti-government protesters and police clashed again Monday in Ukraine’s capital. Hundreds of protesters, many wearing balaclavas, hurled rocks and stun grenades. Police responded with tear gas.
The violence in Kiev has seriously escalated Ukraine’s political crisis, which has been marked by two months of largely peaceful protests. Here’s a look at the unclear roadmap for peace there:
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The pro-Western protests in Kiev began Nov. 21 after President Viktor Yanukovych shelved a long-planned political and economic treaty with the European Union, then accepted a huge bailout package from Russian President Vladimir Putin instead. The demonstrations swelled to hundreds of thousands on some days — the biggest since Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution — after riot police violently broke up a small peaceful student protest. Clashes broke out on Dec. 1 between radical protesters and police, but the demonstrations had since been largely peaceful until Sunday’s violence.
THE MOST RECENT TRIGGER
Sunday’s violence came after Yanukovych pushed through a sweeping anti-protest law that significantly increases fines and imposes jail terms for unauthorized street protests. The new law also prohibits activists from wearing helmets or masks to demonstrations, curbs free speech and limits the ability to investigate or monitor the activity of officials, including judges. Another provision restricts the activity of non-governmental organizations funded by the West, as many are in Ukraine.
The law mirrors anti-opposition legislation passed in Russia, prompting accusations that Yanukovych is following in Putin’s footsteps by cracking down on his foes. The United States has called the legislation “undemocratic,” and the European Union has urged Ukraine to revise it.
THE OPPOSITION LACKS UNITY
The law has highlighted Yanukovych’s disregard for the protests, which have been calling for his ouster, the restoration of civil rights and a pro-Western course for Ukraine. But the demonstrators have been frustrated by the fragmented and often indecisive opposition leadership.
When Sunday’s large demonstration began peacefully, the crowd repeatedly chanted “Leader!” to demand clear direction for its goals. When that did not happen, hundreds broke off from the main rally and marched toward parliament, where they began attacking riot police with sticks, firebombs and stones. Police responded with tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, a world heavyweight boxing champion, tried to stop the violence, but was attacked by the radical protesters.
“We are tired of waiting, we must push the changes ourselves, we must change the leaders,” said Petro Sopotensky, a 28-year-old protester.
CAN TALKS DO THE TRICK?
Intent on preventing what he called a possible civil war, Klitschko went to Yanukovych’s home Sunday night and emerged with a promise of negotiations. But the president appointed the embattled national security council head Andriy Klyuyev, whom the opposition blames for the violent dispersal of the student rally, to lead the talks. Klitschko insisted that the president must personally take part, but by Monday night no such talks had been held. Instead, Yanukovych issued a statement urging Ukrainians not to take part in the street confrontations.
Klitschko, meanhile ,urged all Ukrainians to rush to Kiev to defend the country’s future.
“Get into cars, vans, buses,” he said in a video address. “You are needed here so that Ukraine is the winner, not Yanukovych.”
WHERE IS THE WEST IN ALL THIS?
Opposition leaders have been urging the EU and the United States to impose sanctions on top Ukrainian officials and Yanukovych’s financial backers, but Western diplomats have only threatened sanctions and issued harsh statements. On Monday, the EU urged the Ukrainian government to scrap the anti-protest legislation. Unconvinced, hundreds of activists rallied outside the EU office in Kiev on Monday, chanting “We need your help!” in English and holding posters that read “No sanctions, no peace.”
“The reaction of the international community has been inadequate,” said Valeriy Chalyi, head of the Razumkov Center think tank. “We are talking about Ukraine’s independence. And if one does not understand this today, tomorrow it will be too late.”
Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.