Share this article

print logo

Ukrainian protests spread after opposition rejects president’s overture

KIEV, Ukraine – After President Viktor F. Yanukovych failed to defuse Ukraine’s political crisis by offering concessions to opposition leaders, anti-government protests Sunday spread into southern and eastern Ukraine, the heart of the embattled president’s political base.

About 1,500 demonstrators gathered outside the regional administration building in Dnipropetrovsk, where there were reports of scuffling with the police, while some 5,000 rallied in Zaporizhzhya and 2,000 marched and rallied in Odessa, local news media reported.

The growing unrest – in parts of the country that are most supportive of Yanukovych’s pro-Russia policies and where there had been little sympathy for the protest movement – raised the prospect of widening violence and deepening political chaos while conditions in Kiev, the capital, continued to deteriorate.

In Dnipropetrovsk, in the southeast, the authorities said that they had arrested 37 protesters for disorderly conduct and that 18 police officers had suffered injuries. There were similar reports of arrests and injuries in Zaporizhzhya, another southeastern city where demonstrators sought to lay siege to the regional administration building and were held off by police officers who used tear gas and stun grenades.

In Kiev, anti-government forces late Sunday night occupied the Justice Ministry headquarters, adding to the portfolio of public buildings under their control and following through on a pledge to continue protests regardless of Yanukovych’s proposed concessions.

The seizure of the Justice Ministry reinforced a growing sense that the authorities were losing control of the city and that the riot police and other Interior Ministry troops were outnumbered and perhaps overwhelmed. Protesters have long occupied Kiev’s City Hall and several other buildings near the occupied Independence Square.

In recent days they also took control of an Agriculture Ministry building and briefly seized the Energy Ministry before voluntarily pulling back. After a fierce battle on Saturday night, they ousted a large number of police from Ukrainian House, a public conference center and exhibition hall.

At least four demonstrators were killed during battles with the police last week, and growing evidence of kidnappings and abuse by the authorities or their surrogates has hardened the views among protesters. Many now say they will settle for nothing less than Yanukovych’s resignation.

On Saturday, Yanukovych had offered to dismiss the government and install one opposition leader, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, as prime minister, and a second, the former champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, as a deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs. He also proposed an array of other concessions, including a rollback of constitutional changes which broadly expanded the powers of the presidency earlier in his term.

The opposition leaders, who represent different minority parties in Parliament and share little in common politically other than their antipathy toward Yanukovych, rejected the offer. That decision came much to the relief of thousands of protesters on the street who say they have little faith in any of Ukraine’s elected politicians and want deeper, more systemic changes.

Yanukovych set off the protests in November when he broke a promise to sign far-reaching free trade agreements with the European Union.

Instead, he secured $15 billion in aid from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.