Ukraine Opposition Leaders Losing Grip on Protesters

By Alina Varfolomeyeva, Epoch Times
January 19, 2014 Updated: January 19, 2014

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukrainian opposition leader and former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko used his own body in an attempt to prevent protesters and riot police from clashing Sunday.

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators clashed for hours with riot police, attacking officers with sticks, stones, and flares. Dozens of people, including more than 20 police, were injured.

Klitschko was attacked himself and sprayed with a fire extinguisher by the same protesters he had been relying on for help in overthrowing the government.

While protests have been mostly peaceful, anger rose sharply after President Yanukovych on Friday approved laws sharply limiting Ukrainians’ rights to protest, civic activism, and free speech. It highlights the increased disconnect between opposition politicians and protesters.

On Sunday, the protesters, many wearing hard hats and gas masks in defiance of the new legislation, also used stun grenades and fire extinguishers on officers. A police bus was set on fire, and some activists broke pavement into chunks.

While most remained on the square, a group of radicals marched toward a police cordon several hundred meters away blocking an area housing government offices and began attacking riot police with sticks to push their way toward Ukraine’s Parliament building. The crowd then swelled into the thousands.

For months protesters have staged daily protests in the Ukrainian capital in freezing temperatures. They have grown increasingly disillusioned with opposition politicians who they say have no clear plan.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision two months ago to freeze ties with the European Union and seek a huge bailout from Russia also incited the protests.

Some of the protesters said that the protests on Maidan square are not getting the government’s attention, and have suggested occupying government buildings, including Parliament.

It’s a strategy that opposition leaders such as Klitschko strongly oppose, saying the use of force will only legitimize a stronger response from authorities.

The ministry also said a criminal case had been opened on charges of mass disorder; convictions under that charge could bring prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Epoch Times staff member Jasper Fakkert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.