Ukraine’s Russia-minded president has supported a call for talks a day after hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Kiev, strengthening anti-government demonstrations raging for weeks in the capital.
Viktor Yanukovich’s official website said on Monday that the president backed an initiative of an “all-national round-table” suggested by Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first post-Soviet president.
“In his opinion, such a round-table can become a platform for mutual understanding,” the website said.
Later on Monday, heavily armed masked men have raided party headquarters of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and took a computer server, spokewoman Natalia Lysova said. She blamed police for the incident, but the police denied any involvement.
Meanwhile, security forces in full riot gear encircled tents and barricades erected by anti-government protesters that were blocking city buildings in Kiev and have begun to dismantle some of them.
The opposition must stay here and do everything to stop the police from breaking up a peaceful demonstration
The police action involved at least two protest sites outside government buildings in the city centre.
Earlier on Monday hundreds of protesters blocked several main streets in the centre of the capital, eyewitnesses told the Reuters news agency, responding to calls from opposition leaders to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention.
“The opposition must stay here and do everything to stop the police from breaking up a peaceful demonstration,” Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader, told Reuters.
Klitschko called on those people who were elderly or frail to go home.
He also said he, with other opposition leaders, was ready to hold compromise talks with Yanukovich, but feared that police crackdown was imminent.
EU gets involved
Yanukovich has faced weeks of protests after shelving a treaty with the European Union last month to focus on ties with Moscow.
Now the EU has decided to send its top diplomat to Kiev to try to help Ukrainians find an exit from the political standoff dividing them.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Catherine Ashton, who will be in Kiev on Tuesday and Wednesday, will try to help defuse “the very tense solution that Ukraine is living today.”
Protesters flooded Kiev’s streets after Ukraine’s president refused to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union and opted instead for closer ties with Russia. Barroso hailed the demonstrators on Monday, saying they are “writing the new narrative for Europe.”
“When we see in the cold streets of Kiev, men and women with the European flag, fighting for that European flag, it is because they are also fighting for Ukraine and for their future,” Barroso said.