Ukrainian riot police moved Monday to curb pro-European demonstrators in Kyiv by dismantling barricades set up by protesters outside government building and storming the headquarters of the largest opposition party.
The actions came a day before a senior EU official is to visit.
Police broke doors in the headquarters of the Fatherland Party run by Yulia Tymoshenko. She is a former prime minister who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election and was later put on trial for abuse of power and jailed.
Monday’s crackdown looked like an attempt to roll back opposition gains made Sunday during a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in the nation’s capital.
In that protest, masked militants from Svoboda, or Freedom Party, used steel cables to pull down a Soviet-era Lenin statue. The statue has stood in central Kyiv for 66 years. The fall decapitated the statue, then young men took turns bashing the polished granite into pieces. Protesters grabbed chips as souvenirs.
Monday’s police action appeared designed to restore access to government offices downtown without causing major bloodshed.
On Tuesday, President Viktor Yanukovych plans to welcome EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for a two-day visit. Ashton plans to meet with government officials and opposition leaders in an effort to defuse the political standoff.
As helmeted riot police dismantled some barricades, Yanukovych said he accepted the proposal of the country’s first post-Soviet president, Leonid Kravchuk, to bring the government and opposition together in a round table to work on a negotiated solution.
The next presidential election is to be held in March 2015, but the opposition wants snap presidential and parliamentary elections in the coming weeks.
The protesters are highly suspicious of President Yanukovych. For a year he promised to put Ukraine on the European path. Then three weeks ago, after a trip to Russia, he abruptly dropped a plan to sign a free trade treaty with the European Union.
The opposition’s suspicions rose further Saturday when they discovered the president stopped by Russia for a quick meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s presidential spokesman issued a statement that no secret deal was signed for Ukraine to join Russia’s rival trade bloc.