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Published: Monday, 1/20/2014

Protests take a darker turn in Ukraine as police, protesters turn to force

NEW YORK TIMES

KIEV, Ukraine — The catapult that went up on a central street of this city on Monday was a clear sign that the protests that have been going on here for more than two months were taking a darker turn.

At about 10 feet tall, the catapult was piled with bags full of cobblestones to send whistling into the ranks of the police. Men in masks hovered around it but did not let loose, apparently fearful of hitting protesters, given the large crowd nearby.

Clashes between demonstrators and the police continued Monday after fighting broke out the day before between riot police officers and protesters who had gathered to object to new laws limiting public assembly.

As the police have escalated their use of force, so have the protesters.

“We’re on a crusade now,” one man wearing a balaclava said, pointing proudly at the scrap-wood catapult, designed to fire cobblestones about 200 yards down range into the police, with presumably devastating effect.

The protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union, negotiating a financial aid deal with Russia instead. A movement that seemed to be fading was re-energized by opposition to new laws against public assembly passed last week.

“We stood, we asked peacefully, but the government didn’t hear us,” said Svyatislav Y. Shamis, 32, a lawyer, while watching preparations to fire the catapult. “The Parliament voted for these unpopular laws, blatantly violating human rights. They constantly steal, and they pass laws for themselves and their businesses.”

In a sign of the darkening mood, two dazed men walked into a group of demonstrators Monday morning naked, barefoot and covered in welts, a video of the scene showed. The men said they had been detained by riot police officers, stripped of their clothes and shot multiple times at close range with rubber bullets, then let go as a warning to others.

Opposition leaders including Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a leader of the Fatherland Party, and Vitali Klitschko, leader of Punch, a political party, have renounced the violence but have been powerless to stop it.

A planned meeting Monday between these leaders and an aide to Yanukovych intended to tamp down tensions did not take place.

Instead, Yanukovych, in a statement posted on his website, called for calm but also warned of an imminent response to the civil uprising in the capital.



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