Thousands of people in the Ukrainian capital have mourned a protester shot dead during clashes, as demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovich continued despite sweeping concessions offered by the embattled leader.
An emotional crowd packed Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev for the Orthodox funeral to pay their last respects to 25-year-old Mikhail Zhiznevsky, as Pope Francis prayed for dialogue in a country swept by civil strife.
Mourners bearing flowers and waving Ukrainian flags hailed the Belarussian national, who had been living in Ukraine for several years, as a hero of their country and noted that Sunday would have been his 26th birthday.
“He was a very brave, very kind person who gave his life for the future of Ukraine,” one mourner, Iryna Davydova, told the AFP news agency.
Officials have confirmed he died of gunshot wounds during recent clashes, but the security forces have denied firing on protesters.
Thousands of activists laid siege to local government offices in four Ukrainian cities on Sunday after protesters occupied regional administrations in nine more official hubs to protest against Yanukovich-appointed governors.
De facto powers in the occupied regional centres have passed to local pro-opposition lawmakers or improvised “People’s Parliaments” set up by the protesters themselves.
In two regions, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil, local parliaments even approved motions to ban the ruling Party of Regions in a symbolic move that echoes the outlawing of the Communist Party after the fall of the Soviet Union.
|Ukraine demonstrations spread outside of Kiev|
Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer, reporting from Kiev, said that almost half of the country’s regions are more or less in the hands of the opposition forces.
One week after clashes first erupted between the opposition and police, protesters scored another victory by taking control of Ukraine House, a Stalin-era exhibition hall near the protest zone, ousting about 200 special forces using it as a base.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Kiev, said protesters had claimed that the centre was being used to stage attacks. The police were later allowed to leave under negotiation, but protesters remained in the building on Sunday.
The Interior Ministry said that it had decided to “withdraw the reserve unit of security forces from the building” to avoid further confrontation.
Two months after the protests began over Yanukovich’s decision to back out of a European Union pact in favour of closer ties with Russia, the president offered on Saturday to share leadership with opposition figures Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko as deputy prime minister in a dramatic compromise bid.
But opposition leaders have said they were not backing down and would continue negotiations with Yanukovich until other demands are met, in particular that presidential elections due in 2015 be brought forward to this year.
Former boxing champion Klitschko, leader of the UDAR (Punch) party, branded the proposals “poisoned” in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.