THURSDAY, JANUARY 24, 2019
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Protesters clash with police in Kyiv
Journal Staff Report

KYIV, Dec. 17 - Police and protesters have clashed in central Kyiv as several thousand people took to the streets of the Ukrainian capital to call for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko and the resignation of the country's top prosecutor, RFE/RL reported.

Kyiv police said at least 32 security officers were injured in confrontations with protesters who attempted to storm the October Palace concert hall near Independence Square -- the site of the months-long 2013-14 protests that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Many protesters were supporters of opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who is now an opposition leader in Ukraine.

Protesters attempted to enter the concert hall after Saakashvili said he planned to set up his headquarters there. But police and National Guard forces moved to prevent them from going inside. The ensuing clashes included the firing of tear gas and the use of fire extinguishers.

Police accused protesters of throwing firecrackers and deploying an "unknown gas," adding that criminal investigations had been opened into attempted seizure of a public building, threats and violence against law enforcement officers, and impeding law enforcement work.

Saakashvili distanced himself from the attempt to storm the October Palace, saying that he wanted to "rent two rooms there" and that the clashes were "President Poroshenko's game and provocation."

"I denounce any [attempts] to break windows, because, once there are millions of us, these doors and these windows will open themselves. We don't need to break them, people," Saakashvili added in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

The actions of the protesters outside the building drew rebukes from Western diplomats in Kyiv.

Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk said on Twitter that "attempts to seize and damage public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protests."

Meanwhile, British Ambassador Judith Gough said she "completely" agreed with Waschuks criticism.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv echoed the comments in a Twitter statement.

We agree with our colleagues from Canada and the U.K. Attempts to capture and destroy public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protest.

Amid a heavy police presence, the demonstrators earlier on Sunday marched through central Kyiv toward Independence Square.

They urged parliament to adopt legislation on presidential impeachment and called on Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko to step down.

The authorities have accused Saakashvili of abetting an alleged "criminal group" led by Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his ouster in February 2014. They also have suggested that Saakashvili's protests are part of a Russian plot against Ukraine.

Ukrainian police on December 5 tried to detain Saakashvili, who denies the charges against him, but supporters crowded around a police vehicle where he was held and then freed him.

He was again detained three days later, but a judge on December 11 turned down a request by prosecutors to place him under house arrest.

Lutsenko has said he will appeal the judge's ruling and that Saakashvili will likely be extradited to Georgia, where he is wanted on charges linked to his time as president. (rfe/ez)

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