Ukraine Protesters Reject Deal With President

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev protesters Friday rejected the shaky compromise reached between its leaders and embattled President Victor Yanukovich after five hours of hard talks.

Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-European Union activists and police lines in central Kiev, Ukraine.

Early Friday, by a simple show of hands, thousands of protesters who gathered in Kiev's Independent Square voted to continue the confrontation with the government until all their demands are met.

Of the initial demands set forth by the opposition leaders, Yanukovich agreed only to release about 100 protesters detained since Sunday, when the clashes began.

The sides also agreed not to attack each other.

Yanukovich also promised that the Supreme Rada, the national parliament, would convene for an urgent session next week to discuss canceling a number of controversial laws adopted last week that set off violent clashes between protesters and riot police, causing at least three deaths and leaving more than 250 injured on both sides.

The laws -- which limited freedoms of speech and assembly and established punishment of up to 15 years in prison for participation in mass demonstrations -- were denounced by the opposition as authoritarian and antidemocratic.

The rest of the initial demands, which called for early presidential and parliamentary elections, the Cabinet's resignation and changing the constitution in favor of a parliamentary republic with limited presidential powers, were rejected by Yanukovich on Thursday.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, whose resignation and prosecution was also among the opposition's key demands, asked the protesters to leave Grushevsky Street in downtown Kiev, the scene of violent confrontations in recent days, and promised not to attack them in Independence Square, the opposition's tent camp for the past two months half a mile away.

“If the protesters in Grushevsky Street accept this proposal and leave the danger zone, the police will not take any measures to pursue these people,” Zakharchenko said in a statement posted Friday morning on the Interior Ministry's official website.

“The police will not use force to sweep [the protest camp in] Independence Square.”

In response the crowd in Independence Square voted to expand the protest zone to European Square and part of Grushevsky Street, where protesters were still burning hundreds of tires to separate themselves from riot police and obstruct the vision of police snipers shooting at them with rubber bullets.

At least two deaths in recent days were caused by gunshot wounds, media reports said.

A third victim, a 50-year-old protester from the western city of Lviv, was found dead Friday outside Kiev with signs of torture on his body.

The opposition said the man had been kidnapped and tortured by the police.

The Interior Ministry rejected the charge, saying the man had died of exposure and that they are investigating his death.

“There is a criminal group of about 200 men acting in Kiev under the guise of police which is committing crimes including kidnappings,” Kiev police chief Vitaly Yaryoma argued in televised remarks.

The opposition leaders, who insisted on continuing talks with authorities, accepted the protesters' vote and stayed in Independence Square through Friday morning.

“We extend the territory of Independence Square to Grushevsky Street,” another opposition leader, Arseny Yatsenyuk, told the crowd after the vote.

“But we will continue negotiations to press for real results, not just empty promises.

“The lives of each of us now depend on this decision,” opposition leader Oleg Tyahnybok told the crowd.

“We are continuing the struggle together with you on condition that we act like a united, disciplined army! Glory to Ukraine!”

Thousands of voices in the crowd echoed with “Glory to the heroes!”

A few hours later dozens of protesters broke the windows on the ground floor of the Agriculture Ministry next to Independence Square and captured the building, UNIAN information agency reported.

Source: Los Angeles Times