Ukraine unrest: Protesters storm regional offices

Barricades of snowbags, tyres and wooden sticks surround the Lviv regional state administration office, as Steve Rosenberg reports

Anti-government demonstrators in Ukraine are expanding their protests after talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych stalled.

In western Ukraine, activists seized the regional government office in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk and are storming another one in Chernivtsi.

Protests were reported in Lutsk, in the north-west, and Sumy, in the east.

Meanwhile, Mr Yanukovych vowed to use "all legal means" if a solution to the crisis is not found.

At a meeting with religious leaders, he also promised to amend anti-protests laws rushed through parliament last week and reshuffle the government at an urgent session of parliament due to begin on Tuesday.

And he said amnesty would be granted to those detained activists who had not committed "grave crimes".

In the capital, Kiev, new barricades were erected as the main protest camp expanded.

Analysis

The Lviv regional state administration office resembles something from protest-hit Kiev. All around the building there are barricades of snow bags, tyres and wooden sticks.

On Thursday, hundreds of anti-government protesters seized control here.

Inside, I met "commandant" Andriy, the man in charge here now and the head of the local trade union. Andriy told me that the protesters were motivated by anger at what was happening in Kiev.

They blame the authorities for the violence and for death of anti-government activist Yuri Verbytsky, who was from Lviv. He was found dead in a forest outside Kiev. "People," Andriy said, "have the right to rise up."

It's a similar picture in other parts of western Ukraine, where protesters have been picketing local government offices and, in some cases, taking control.

It's in this region that opposition to President Yanukovych has traditionally been strongest - and pro-Europe sentiment most keenly felt.

Demonstrators braving freezing conditions in Kiev's Independence Square - widely known as the Maidan - also occupied a government building as a truce with riot police continued.

Meanwhile, the parliament of the Crimean Autonomous Republic - seen as a staunch supporter of Mr Yanukovych - urged the president to declare a state of emergency.

In other developments on Friday:

  • Germany and France are summoning Ukraine's ambassadors over recent deadly clashes in Kiev
  • The EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, has held talks in Kiev with Mr Yanukovych and is due to meet opposition leaders
  • Mr Yanukovych names Security and Defence Secretary Andriy Kluyev as new head of the presidential administration

The crisis escalated earlier this week when the first deaths in the unrest happened.

Two protesters were shot during rioting on Hrushevskyy Street near the Maidan. The opposition says they were killed by riot police or snipers - the government denies the claim.

An activist was also found dead in woods near Kiev after apparently being abducted, tortured and left to die in the snow.

The demonstrations were initially triggered by the government's last-minute decision to ditch a proposed association and free trade deal with the EU in November.

But protesters later widened their demand to include the fight against what activists say are widespread government corruption and abuse of power.

The authorities deny the allegations.

Maidan vote

In Ivano-Frankivsk, some 1,500 protesters occupied the regional administration and barricaded themselves in the building, according to the Ukrainska Pravda website.

Women holding icons kneel in front of riot police in Kiev. Photo: 24 January 2014 In Kiev, women begged riot police not to attack protesters
A protester inside the agricultural policy ministry in Kiev, 24 January A slogan inside the newly occupied agricultural policy ministry reads "Power to the people"
Protesters inside the agricultural policy ministry in Kiev, 24 January Protesters said they had moved into the building to get out of the cold and to rest
Protesters' tents in Kiev, 24 January On Independence Square, snow covers the protesters' tents

The protesters are now demanding that the local governor should resign immediately.

In Chernivsti, crowds stormed the governor's office as police tried to protect the building. People shouted "Shame on you!" and "Resign!"

In Lutsk, a big demonstration is being held outside the local administration. Unrest was also seen in Sumy.

Regional offices are being blockaded in the western city of Uzhgorod.

Meanwhile in Lviv, protesters have built barricades around the governor's office that they seized on Thursday. There were also reports that some members of the special police, Berkut, were resigning.

In Kiev, masked activists stood guard around the newly-build defence barriers. Some activists were seen carrying riot shields captured from the police as trophies.

The barricades took shape on Hryshevskyy Street and also closer to the presidential administration building.

One group of protesters took control of the main agricultural ministry building, reportedly meeting no resistance.

"We need to keep people warm in the frost," protester Andriy Moiseenko was quoted as saying by the Associated Press, as temperatures dipped towards minus 16C.

Ministry workers were allowed to take their possessions but not permitted to go to work.

Former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who met Mr Yanukovych, came back on Thursday evening saying the president had made no real concessions.

"Hours of conversation were spent about nothing," he said.

People on the Maidan later voted to stop any talks with the president, and the decision was taken to expand the main protest camp.

The opposition had been calling for harsh new anti-protest laws to be repealed, a snap presidential election and the resignation of the government.

BBC map
Appeal for restraint

Justice Minister Olena Lukash said on Thursday that further talks would take place, without saying when.

Mr Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and fellow opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok had failed to condemn "extremist actions" at the talks, she added.

Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko issued a statement guaranteeing that police would not take action against the protest camp on Independence Square.

He urged police officers to "exercise restraint and not to react to petty provocations".

Earlier, his ministry apologised after video footage emerged showing police humiliating a protester, who was made to walk around naked in the snow.

Map

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