Tens of thousands of pro-EU demonstrators braved the freezing cold in the capital on Sunday to rally against new laws that opposition leaders have labelled “illegitimate” and Western governments have criticised as anti-democratic.
Protesters attempted to overturn a police-commandeered bus. In response, law-enforcement officials used tear gas to try to break up the brawl.
Boxing champion-turned-opposition politician Vitali Klitschko attended the protest in Independence Square, but later urged demonstrators to stop using violence.
A few days earlier, MPs loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych passed the controversial bills in a matter of minutes by a simple show of hands.
The process provoked outcry from the opposition because the recognised electronic system of voting was not used.
As a consequence of the tough new laws, all forms of anti-government protest will be virtually outlawed. The bills include criminal responsibility for defaming government officials – punishable by one year of corrective labour – and a ban on unauthorised tents, stages or amplifiers in public areas.
Protests involving convoys of more than five vehicles were also outlawed.
Another new measure directly copies legislation in Russia. Organisations receiving direct or indirect financial support from any foreign source will be labelled “foreign agents”. In addition, they will be required to pay special taxes and to routinely publish accounts of their activities.
The US State Department expressed “deep concern” at the passing of the controversial bills.
“We believe deeply that the people of Ukraine want to affiliate and want to be associated with Europe and they want to turn in that direction,” US Secretary of Satte John Kerry said. “And the steps that were taken (…) are anti-democratic. They’re wrong. They are taking from the people of Ukraine their choice and their opportunity for the future.”
Sunday’s rally follows nearly two months of anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a landmark Ukraine-EU trade deal in November.