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Ukraine: Opposition party targeted as protests rage

Protesters offer sandwiches to riot policemen standing guard in Independence Square. Picture: AFP/Getty

Protesters offer sandwiches to riot policemen standing guard in Independence Square. Picture: AFP/Getty

  • by JIM HEINTZ
 

Heavily armed riot troops last night broke into an opposition party office in central Kiev and seized its computer servers, as Ukraine’s anti-government protests crippled the capital for yet another day.

Hundreds of police moved into Kiev early yesterday and some began to dismantle a few of the protest barriers and tents that had been blocking city offices.

Fatherland Party member Ostap Semerak said troops broke into the party’s offices in the evening, some even climbing in through its windows. “They are storming us. The images are insane,” he said.

He added that the troops had left after confiscating some computer equipment.

Wearing helmets and carrying shields, police also surrounded three tent encampments outside the government offices in central Kiev. Riot police began removing barricades on the approach to one building.

President Viktor Yanukovych has faced three weeks of protests after shelving a treaty with the 28-nation European Union to focus on ties with Moscow.

In a surprise move, he announced he would sit down with three former Ukrainian presidents today to discuss a way out of the crisis. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is also heading to Ukraine to help defuse the tensions.

Ukraine’s political stand-off has been aggravated by its rapidly deteriorating finances. The economy has been in recession for more than a year, and the government is in desperate need of foreign funding to avoid a default. As talks stalled with the International Monetary Fund, Mr Yanukovych has sought a bailout loan from Russia.

The former Soviet republic is sharply divided over the prospects of drawing closer to its powerful neighbour. Mr Yanukovych’s stronghold is dominated by Russian speakers who want closer ties to Russia, in contrast to Kiev’s students and residents in the west who see better EU ties as the way forward. Opinion polls show the EU is more popular among most Ukrainians.

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