Controversial anti-protest laws which sparked unprecedented riots have entered force today in Ukraine as disturbances between thousands of protesters and anti-riot police in Kiev moved into a third day.
The new laws, which ban nearly all forms of protest in the ex-Soviet country, were officially published in the newspaper of the Ukranian parliament, after a warning from President Viktor Yanukovych that the violence threatened the entire country.
They allow for jail terms of up to five years for those who blockade public buildings and the arrest of protesters wearing masks or helmets.
Protesters fire at police with fireworks, in central Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Other provisions ban the dissemination of “slander” on the Internet.
The law came into force despite calls from the West and the opposition to bin the legislation, raising fears that the authorities could use the restrictions to resort to violence to disperse the protest.
Clashes on Sunday and Monday, which followed two months of protests, turned the centre of the capital Kiev into a veritable war zone as some 10,000 demonstrators battled security forces, leading to Russian authorities to say this morning that the situation is getting ‘out of control’.
The clashes erupted after a rally of some 200,000 people against the restrictions on protesting was pushed through by Yanukovych supporters in parliament on Sunday.
A protester stands on top of a barricade during during clashes with police in central Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
In a televised address to the nation, Yanukovych warned on Monday that the violence threatened the foundations of the entire country, which is divided between the pro-European west and the pro-Russian east.
“I am convinced that such phenomena are a threat not only to the public in Kiev but all of Ukraine,” he said, indicating his patience was wearing thin.
I treated your participation in mass rallies with understanding, I expressed readiness to find ways to solve the existing contradictions.
The opposition led by three politicians including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said it was ready for dialogue but stressed it wanted to hold talks with Yanukovych, not his aides.
The government set up a special commission to address the crisis.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka warned protesters to halt “mass rioting”, describing it as a crime against the state.
Protests began after Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a pact for closer integration with the EU in November.
Protesters assist a wounded comrade. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
With more than 200 people injured so far, thousands of Ukrainians braved temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) to take part in the standoff with police.
According to the Kiev health authorities, more than 100 protesters were wounded in the violence.
The interior ministry said more than 100 members of the security forces had been wounded, adding that several dozen people had been arrested for mass rioting.
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