Ukraine: Riot Police Deploy Near Protesters As Deadline Looms
Ukraine's government has deployed riot police near Independence Square outside Kiev's city hall, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters for more than a week. Police had told the protesters they have until early this week to vacate the building.
Opposition leaders have been trying to calm the situation, which was sparked by outrage over President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to reject closer ties with the European Union in favor of joining a trade union with Russia.
From Kiev, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on the scene today:
"Riot police with black helmets and shields formed a line near the building, but didn't advance toward it. Vitaly Klitchko, an opposition politician and world boxing champion, spoke briefly with one of the police commanders.
"He said before giving any orders, the police should consider whether they themselves are violating the law. Klitschko said the protest was a peaceful demonstration with no aggression."
In signs of escalating tensions, several subway stations near the square were shut down Monday, and "battalions of police" took up positions ringing the protest area, according to The New York Times.
"Demonstrators were scrambling to reinforce barricades, and they moved public benches, wood planks and anything else available to add to the fortifications that have closed off the area for more than a week," The Times says.
As Corey reports, Ukraine's opposition is led in part by Vitaly Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champ. On Monday, Klitschko said the group is prepared to discuss a compromise with Yanukovich — to a point.
"I am sure that the current government must resign," Klitschko tells Reuters. "We have announced our demands more than once and in relation to this we are ready to talk with Yanukovich because no one else is making decisions."
The latest word from Yanukovich is that he's ready to talk. On Monday, he issued a statement via his website that he supports holding a "nationwide panel discussion" that includes the opposition — an idea that was put forward by former President Leonid Kravchuk.
Those talks could take place Tuesday, according to the site.
On Sunday, a large anti-government rally in Kiev's Independence Square resulted in the dismantling of a statue of Vladimir Lenin — a symbol of Russia that was targeted by the protesters.
As Eyder reported for The Two-Way Sunday, organizers of the anti-government protest say that the statue was brought down spontaneously.
"We can say that people organized themselves," one man said of the statue's removal.