Fragile Truce in Kiev as Protests Spread Across Ukraine

Opposition leaders may be losing control of extremist factions

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Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Antigovernment protester attends a rally in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on Jan. 24, 2014

A tenuous truce is currently being observed in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, after crisis talks were held Thursday between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders, but the violent protests have spread to at least five other cities in the west of the country.

The opposition appears divided in its attitude toward negotiation. As some leaders urged the crowd to suspend protests, defiant shouts of “Revolution” and “Shame” could be heard. There are fears that protest leaders are losing control over the more extremist factions among the demonstrators — among them a shadowy coalition of right-wing and ultra-nationalist groups known as Pravyy Sektor (Right Sector), which has reportedly been behind much of the violence.

“We, the nationalists, have to throw off the regime of internal occupation in a revolutionary way, no other way is available,” one of its leaders, Andriy Tarasenko, told Agence France-Presse in an interview. He warned of a guerrilla war if the authorities continued with their crackdown.

Meanwhile in Lviv, protesters forced Governor Oleg Salo to resign in the street.

Salo later said that his resignation, which read “I ask to be freed of my duties,” was invalid since he was intimidated into signing it.

The current unrest erupted after President Yanukovych scrapped a trade deal with the E.U. in November. The protests took a violent turn on Sunday, after the government pushed through harsh antiprotest legislation. Parts of central Kiev were turned into a battle zone as protesters erected barricades and mounds of burning tires and lobbed Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with live ammunition, shock grenades and water cannons.

Activists have set up a live stream of the disturbances:

Dozens of people on both sides have been injured, and Wednesday saw the first confirmed fatalities so far, with two protesters shot dead by police forces. Opposition figures claim three more protesters have died.

A video apparently showing a protester stripped naked and harassed by police became a symbol of the worsening standoff, and prompted an apology from the Interior Ministry on Thursday.