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Protesters occupy buildings in Kiev

by MARIA DANILOVA Associated Press on January 24, 2014 10:00 AM

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian protesters seized a government ministry in the capital and besieged several governors’ offices in western regions today, 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 Yanu-kovych, 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 today, 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,” said protester Andriy Moiseenko, referring to temperatures that dip to minus 4 Fahrenheit overnight. “We cannot have people sleeping in tents all the time.”

The protests began two months ago after Yanu-kovych 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.

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, 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, 90 miles southeast of Kiev, where police barricaded the governor’s building from the inside and prevented them from taking control today. 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 today, saying it was screening as many as 1,000 protesters on suspicion that they were involved in radical groups responsible for grave crimes.

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