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Ukraine Opposition Warns It May Be 'Too Late' As Tensions Continue

Police and protesters face off in Kyiv in the early morning hours of January 21, after a tense night that saw Molotov cocktails, bottle rockets, and stun grenades exchanged between protesters and police.
Ukrainian opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko has warned amid ongoing confrontations in the streets of Kyiv that it may be too late for President Viktor Yanukovych to negotiate with the opposition.

Speaking early on January 21 after another night of tense standoffs in the Ukrainian capital, Lutsenko, a former interior minister, said the protests descended into violent clashes with police because Yanukovych failed to respond to the demands of peaceful demonstrators.

Lutsenko suggested that antigovernment forces were standing by a demand for Yanukovych's resignation, saying, "If Yanukovich does not realize his time has passed then roundtable talks will not help."

"I do not support these methods," Lutsenko said of the violence, "but I understand that their actions were the result of the president of Ukraine ignoring the demands of millions of peaceful protesters for 60 days. It is obvious Yanukovich simply does not want to hear his people the nice way, so these people in their desperation had to get through to him."

Hundreds of people have been reported injured in the clashes over the past 72 hours, and some protesters were clearly taking a more aggressive approach, donning helmets, and launching stones and Molotov cocktails, and torching vehicles.
A person aims and fires a bottle rocket at riot police during clashes in central in Kyiv on January 20.
A person aims and fires a bottle rocket at riot police during clashes in central in Kyiv on January 20.

Yanukovych called for dialogue and compromise on January 20 but warned the public "not to follow those who call for violence, who are willing to provoke the split between the state and society, who want to throw the people of Ukrainian into the furnace of mass riots."

Opposition leaders have called for Ukrainians across the country to travel to Kyiv and join the antigovernment protests, which were sparked by a November decision by Yanukovych and his political allies to abandon talks with the European Union on trade and association agreements.

RFE/RL correspondents Dmytro Barkar and Ihor Iskhakov were detained along with protesters on January 20 while they were covering the clashes. Both journalists were released hours later, bloodied and saying they had been beaten by police (see video).
Ukrainian RFE/RL Journalists Describe Beatings
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After parliament approved a ban last week on mass demonstrations in central Kyiv, the protests turned into violent clashes, with demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails and police firing stun grenades in a failed effort to disperse the angry crowds.

Yanukovych suspended the EU negotiations in favor of closer economic ties with Russia -- a move that won Ukraine a $15 billion aid package from Moscow and gas-price concessions.

On January 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Ukraine's opposition and some European states for the social tensions in Ukraine. At a news conference, Lavrov called the demonstrators who occupied the Kyiv mayor's building and a government building in the capital "militants" and added that "violent attacks on police, arson, Molotov cocktails, and explosive devices" were what he called "an absolute violation of all European standards of behavior."

Lavrov labeled perceived European support for Ukraine's opposition "indecent" and accused members of "certain European governments" of rushing to the main site of protests in Kyiv uninvited to take part in antigovernment protests.

Based on reports by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, AP, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax
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