Police crack down on demonstrators in Ukraine, EU & US condemn excessive force
Riot police brutally cracked down on peaceful demonstrators in Kiev early Wednesday morning, drawing the condemnations from U.S. and European Union officials who called for Ukrainian authorities to exercise restraint and to hold meaningful talks with the opposition.
Notwithstanding the visits of top EU and US officials in Kiev this week, riot police -known as “Berkut”- attempted to take back control of Maidan Square where hundreds of thousands of people have gathered to protest Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to suspend talks on the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, which is considered an important step to establish closer economic and political ties with the EU.
According to the Kyiv Post, Human Rights Watch, and videos and photos posted on social media, police used bulldozers to dismantle barricades blocking and tear gas to disperse the crowds. The police were also seen using batons to beat demonstrators. Furthermore, at least 10 people were reportedly arrested.
Wednesday’s crackdown took place just 10 days after riot police beat protestors and journalists near Kiev City Hall on Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st. Human rights groups – including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – decried the excessive use of force and the arbitrary arrests of demonstrators in that confrontation.
The actions by Ukrainian police drew a strong rebuke from Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kiev’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than the respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “We call for utmost restraint. Human life must be protected. Ukrainian authorities bear full responsibility for the security of the Ukrainian people.”
Kerry’s message was reiterated by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who held a two-hour meeting with Yanukovych yesterday.
“It was a tough conversation, but it was a realistic one. I made it absolutely clear to him that what happened last night, what has been happening in security terms here, is absolutely impermissible in an European state, in a democratic state,” said Nuland. “The whole world is watching. We want to see a better future for Ukraine.”
Nuland also told Yanukovych that “there is still a way out for Ukraine” and that it is “still possible to save Ukraine’s European future.”
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, who also met with Yanukovych, said the actions by police were “unacceptable”.
“I was among you on Maidan in the evening and was impressed by the determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for the European perspective of their country. Some hours later I observe with sadness that police used force to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kiev,” said Ashton in message to protestors. “The authorities did not need to act under the coverage of night to engage with society by using force. Dialogue with political forces and society and the use of arguments is always better than the argument of force.”
She called on the Ukrainian government to release the arrested protestors, to conduct an independent investigation into the Maidan attacks and “to bring people to justice and to ensure that it does not happen again”, to hold dialogues with the opposition to de-escalate the situation and seek a peaceful resolution, and to find a way to salvage Ukraine’s path to European integration.
Ashton also emphasized that Ukraine’s closer cooperation with the EU isn’t a zero-sum situation, acknowledging Yanukovych’s concerns about the need to maintain good relations with Russia and reliable access to its affordable energy supplies.
“[This is ] not about making choices, but about recognizing it’s possible to have strong and good relations with all neighbors. Relations that will not only drive the economy in the short term, but drive the economy in the longer-term, to make sure that the potential for this nation to develop economically is realized,” said Ashton. “We think, in the longer-term perspective, that this country looks for the same values that I, and the European Union, hold dear: the freedom of assembly, the basic human rights that people should have. We also believe in strong economic relations between us.”
Yanukovych yesterday invited the opposition to hold a “nationwide dialogue” for “reconciliation and consensus.”
“I invite representatives of all political forces, priests, public figures to hold the nationwide dialogue. Personally I am ready to take part in such panel discussion,” Yanukovych said. “In order to achieve compromise, I urge the opposition not to refuse, not to choose the path of confrontation and ultimatums. I assure that the government will act exclusively in the framework of the law and will never use force against peaceful rallies.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Human rights groups condemn excessive force by police against pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine
- europa.eu: Remarks by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton at the end of her visit to Ukraine
- whitehouse.gov: Press briefing on Dec. 12, 2013
- president.gov.ua: President invites opposition to hold dialogue
- kyivpost.com: Police gain ground overnight on Maidan, beatings reported, at least 10 detained
- hrw.org: Ukraine: Restraint needed by both sides
- U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine
- Twitter.com/GeoffPyatt – U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt’s Twitter handle