Enraged protesters stormed government offices in three western Ukraine cities Thursday, forcing one governor to write a letter of resignation, as demonstrations against the pro-Russian president and his allies intensified outside the smoldering capital.
Kiev, the capital, has been the epicentre of two months of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych that have grown increasingly violent this week. Opposition leaders had given Yanukovych a deadline of Thursday evening to make concessions or face renewed clashes, and they quenched the barricade fires that had coated the capital in black smoke in a tenuous ceasefire.
The president responded by calling a special session of parliament next week to discuss the tensions, telling the parliament speaker: “The situation demands an urgent settlement.” But there was no indication that the move represented a compromise, since the president’s backers hold a majority of seats.
The protests began after Yanukovych turned away from closer ties with the European Union in favour of getting a bailout loan from Russia. They turned violent this week after he pushed through harsh anti-protest laws, rejecting protesters’ demands that he resign and call new elections.
At least two protesters died Wednesday of gunshot wounds, a grim escalation that also galvanized anger in western Ukraine. In Lviv, a city in near the Polish border 450 km west of Kiev, hundreds of activists Thursday burst into the office of regional governor Oleh Salo, a Yanukovych appointee, shouting “Revolution!” and singing Christmas carols.
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After surrounding him and forcing him to sign a resignation letter, an activist ripped it out of Salo’s hands and lifted it up to applause of the crowd. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters smashed windows, broke doors and stormed into the governor’s office in the city of Rivne. Angry crowds also besieged government offices in two other western regions. Reaction from the West and Russia has been mixed.
The US revoked visas of Ukrainian officials linked to violence and threatened more sanctions. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Thursday said if the situation in Ukraine does not stabilize, the EU “would assess possible consequences in its relationship”. Barroso also said he had received assurances from Yanukovych that the Ukrainian leader did not foresee the need to impose a state of emergency. Russia, in turn, accused the West of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs.