Ukrainian protesters erected more street barricades and occupied a government ministry building on Friday, fuelling tension after the failure of crisis talks with President Viktor Yanukovich.
In response to opposition calls, about 1,000 demonstrators moved away from Kiev’s Independence Square in the early hours of Friday and began to erect new barricades closer to presidential headquarters.
Masked protesters, some carrying riot police shields seized as trophies, stood guard as others piled up sandbags packed with frozen snow to form new ramparts across the road leading down into the square.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, after leaving a second round of talks with Yanukovich empty handed, late on Thursday voiced fears the impasse could now lead to further bloodshed.
At least three protesters have been killed so far – two from gunshot wounds – after clashes between protesters led by a hard core of radicals and riot police.
After speaking first to protesters manning the barricades, Klitschko then went to Independence Square where he declared: “Hours of conversation were spent about nothing. There is no sense sitting at a negotiating table with someone who has already decided to deceive you.
“I earnestly wish that there will be no bloodshed and that people are not killed … I will survive, but I am afraid there will be deaths, I am afraid of this,” the boxer-turned-politician said.
Three opposition politicians – Klitschko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok – had tried to wring concessions from Yanukovich that would end two months of street protests against his rule.
A group of protesters took control of the main agricultural ministry building in the centre. “We need the place for our people to warm up,” a local protest leader was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, radical protesters near Dynamo Kiev football stadium – the new flashpoint in the city – cranked up their action, setting tyres ablaze again and sending a pall of black smoke over the area.
There were no signs that protesters were heeding an appeal from general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka who said early on Friday that those so far arrested would be treated leniently by the courts if protest action was halted.
There are reports that protests are spreading to other provincial areas.
Thousands stormed regional administration headquarters in Rivne in western Ukraine on Thursday, breaking down doors and demanding the release of people detained in the unrest there, UNIAN news agency reported.
In the town of Cherkasy, 200 km (125 miles) south of Kiev, about 1,000 protesters took over the first two floors of the main administration building and lit fires outside the building.
PROTESTS HAVE BROADENED
In Kiev, scores on both sides have been injured – many with eye injuries caused by flying projectiles and police rubber bullets.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the capital after Yanukovich backed away from signing a free trade deal with the European Union, which many people saw as the key to a European future, in favour of financial aid from Ukraine’s old Soviet master Russia.
But the movement has since widened into broader protests against perceived misrule and corruption in the Yanukovich leadership.
Protesters have been enraged too by sweeping anti-protest legislation that was rammed through parliament last week by Yanukovich loyalists in the assembly.
Earlier on Thursday, Yanukovich had suggested he might be prepared to make concessions to the opposition when he called for a special session of parliament next week to consider the opposition demands and find a way out of the crisis.
But this did not impress opposition leaders.
Underlining the level of mistrust between the government and opposition, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Thursday accused protesters of trying to stage a coup d’etat and dismissed the possibility of an early presidential election to resolve the standoff.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned Yanukovich on Thursday and warned him that failing to de-escalate the standoff could have “consequences,” the White House said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed anger over the way laws had been rammed through calling into question basic freedoms, while French President Francois Hollande called on Ukrainian authorities to “rapidly seek dialogue”.