KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian government showed no sign of yielding Wednesday as thousands of people continued to rally in Kiev against the decision to freeze ties with the European Union and get closer to Russia.
With President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country on an official trip to China, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov urged the opposition to end its blockade of government buildings and warned the western regions of the country — where protest strikes were announced — that they may be left without federal funding.
Azarov survived a chaotic no-confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday.
Law enforcement bodies have brought dozens of charges against demonstrators, and nine people remain in detention following Sunday's rally when several hundred thousand protested Yanukovych's decision and the use of force against a handful of peaceful demonstrators last month.
"We must decide all this in a calm environment. Not in the streets, but in a responsible dialogue," Azarov told a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Demonstrators have set up scores of tents on the square, the epicenter of protests against the Ukrainian government, and blocked several streets leading to it with tall barricades of wooden pallets and random material. Large piles of wood dot the square, fuel for fires that keep the demonstrators warm in the freezing temperatures.
"We are now defending ... 46 million people. Either they will defeat us, or we will defeat them," opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told reporters.
Last month, Yanukovych's government abruptly halted preparations to sign a key political and economic agreement with the EU and focus on ties with Russia instead. Russia has used strong economic pressure to derail the deal, unwilling to lose this former part of its empire to the West.
Anger is also growing about the status of nine demonstrators who were beaten and arrested when riot police violently dispersed protesters outside the presidential administration building on Sunday. Officials have said the action was in response to provocations by the demonstrators, but supporters of the arrested say radical nationalists were responsible.
Six of those arrested are in intensive care and three others are in jail medical units, their relatives told a news conference on Wednesday and they complained the men have been denied adequate legal help.
"They didn't even allow us to send him a lawyer," said Yana Stepanova, the fiancée of Mykola Lazarovskyi, one of those in intensive care.
She said she had lost touch by telephone with him during the demonstration on Sunday, then heard from friends that riot police had routed the protesters.
Hours later, he called and "he said just two words, that he was in the hospital," she said.
Supporters of those arrested say state lawyers who had not met the defendants represented the arrested at court hearings and alleged that independent lawyers are being intimidated against taking any of the cases. The arrested face a possible seven years in prison if convicted of charges of organizing mass protests.
Nina Bolotova, whose husband Yuri was among those and beaten, sarcastically cast doubt on authorities' claim that the arrested were the organizers of the provocations.
"It's interesting to me that out of so many people, the law-enforcement agencies were able to detain the specific organizers," she said.