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Fresh clashes in Kiev over president's powers

18 February 2014, 14:25

Kiev - Protesters clashed with police near Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday as they sought to force lawmakers to strip embattled President Viktor Yanukovych of a raft of powers, in the latest bid to break months of political deadlock.

Police fired rubber bullets and hurled smoke bombs at protesters who threw stones and set two trucks on fire as they tried to break through heavily fortified police cordons around the parliament building, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Ukraine's interior ministry said in a statement that three servicemen were injured after protesters directed a truck through the police ranks.

Some 20 000 mainly peaceful demonstrators massed outside parliament - where Yanukovych's party has the biggest presence - to try to push lawmakers to vote on returning the country to its 2004 constitution, under which key powers would shift from the president to parliament.

The demonstrators had marched from Kiev's iconic Independence Square, where the opposition remains firmly entrenched in a sprawling tent city after nearly three months of protests against Yanukovych's rule.

Opposition leaders had earlier said that they were planning a "peaceful offensive" on parliament to put the squeeze on lawmakers.

"We hope that the deputies from the majority will recognise what they have to do and allow a vote on constitutional change," Oleg Tyagnybok, nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party leader told journalists at the head of one of the protest columns.

A planned session of parliament failed to start on time as lawmakers from Yanukovych's party blamed opposition leaders for refusing to negotiate with them and taking to the streets instead.

EU sanctions

Before the latest outbreak of violence on Tuesday, Ukraine appeared to be inching towards resolving its worst post-Soviet crisis that was sparked by Yanukovych's decision in November to reject an EU pact in favour of closer ties with Russia.

The pro-EU, anti-government protests have since snowballed into a titanic tug of war for Ukraine's future between Russia and the West.

On Monday the government granted an amnesty to those arrested in the protests after the opposition vacated Kiev's city hall and other administrative buildings it had been occupying.

Also on Monday, opposition leader and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging her to slap sanctions on Yanukovych and his financial backers in a bid to ratchet up pressure on the embattled leader.

During the meeting, which was also attended by opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Klitschko asked Merkel for "financial assistance to overcome the crisis" in the beleaguered nation.

Merkel stressed that Germany and the EU would do everything to contribute towards a "positive outcome" to the turmoil, spokesperson Steffen Seibert said in a statement, and called for lawmakers to push on with reforms.

The talks in Berlin came as Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov vowed to release "this week" a $2bn tranche of a $15bn bailout package to Ukraine that Moscow had essentially frozen after the protests turned deadly last month.

So far only $3bn of the bailout has been transferred to Ukraine's economy, which is struggling to recover from a recession and is being badly hit by capital flight and currency devaluation during its prolonged crisis.

In a concession to the protesters, Yanukovych has dismissed his unpopular government, but he has yet to appoint a new one and the opposition wants its members to be placed in key positions.

On Monday a presidential aide said Yanukovych was consulting "experts" on the nomination of a new prime minister and would take a decision in "the near future".



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