Pro Europe opposition activists armed with improvised weapons prepare for a police assault inside city hall in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Hundreds of police in full riot gear on Monday flooded the center of Kiev key sites of mass anti-government protests that have gripped the capital for weeks, raising fears of a crackdown.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
KIEV, Ukraine — Heavily armed riot troops broke into an opposition party office in central Kiev today and seized its servers, the party said, as Ukraine’s anti-government protests crippled the capital for yet another day.
Hundreds of police moved into Kiev early in the day and some began to dismantle a few of the protest barriers and tents that had been blocking city offices.
Fatherland Party member Ostap Semerak told The Associated Press that troops broke into the party’s offices late today, some even climbing in through its windows.
“They are storming us. The images are insane,” he said, speaking by telephone.
The troops left after confiscating some computer equipment, he said.
Party member Marina Soroka also said the troops surrounded and blockaded several opposition-minded Ukrainian media outlets, making their and other media websites inaccessible.
President Viktor Yanukovych has faced three weeks of protests after shelving a treaty with the 28-nation European Union to focus on ties with Moscow. The protests were galvanized after police violently dispersed some of the demonstrators. On Sunday, a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in Kiev was the largest since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution protests that annulled Yanukovych’s presidential victory.
In a surprise move, Yanukovych announced he would sit down with three former Ukrainian presidents on Tuesday to discuss a way out of the crisis that has paralyzed the country. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was also heading to Ukraine to help defuse the tensions.
Ukraine’s political standoff has been aggravated by its rapidly deteriorating finances. The economy has been in recession for more than a year, and the government is in desperate need of foreign funding to avoid a default. As talks stalled with the International Monetary Fund, Yanukovych has sought a bailout loan from Russia.
This former Soviet republic of 46 million people is sharply divided over the prospects of drawing closer to its powerful neighbor, Russia. Yanukovych’s stronghold, is dominated by Russian speakers who want closer ties to Russia, in contrast to Kiev’s students and residents in the west who see better EU ties as the way forward.
Opinion polls, however, show that the EU is more popular among Ukrainians than Russia.
Wearing helmets and holding shields, Ukrainian police surrounded three tent encampments outside the government and presidential offices in central Kiev late today. Riot police also began removing barricades on the approach to the government building. Most protesters remained standing.
World boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko warned the authorities against any further escalation in tensions.
“We are calling upon law enforcement to restrain from using force against peaceful demonstrators,” he said as he tried to stop police from removing the tents.