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Ukraine

Opposition on offensive in protests against Ukraine President Yanukovych

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have dug in their heels in the capital, occupying Kyiv city hall and blockading the main government building. Ukraine’s prime minister has compared recent protests to a "coup."

Thousands blockaded government buildings Monday and camped on Kyiv's Independence Square. Demonstrators initiated protests over President Viktor Yanukovych's decision last week to renege on a deal to strengthen political and trade links with the European Union.

"Blocking the work of state institutions is not a peaceful demonstration," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said to a group of ambassadors from the European Union, Canada and the United States. "This has all the signs of a coup." He added that Ukrainians would stop getting pensions and salaries "in a matter of days" if officials could not work.

On Monday, heavyweight boxing champion and opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko announced a no-confidence vote against Azarov's government for Tuesday. A parliamentary committee backed Klitschko's motion 8-0, with one abstention, the Interfax news agency reported.

"We don't want to just replace some ministers but to reform the political system," Klitschko said.

After police violence Saturday, 100,000 people, Klitschko among them, took to the streets of Kyiv and other cities Sunday for the biggest demonstrations since 2004's Orange Revolution. Riot police met them with stun grenades, smoke bombs and truncheons, leaving about 200 people injured - including police, civilians and journalists - with 20 hospitalized. Interior Minister Vitaly Sakharchenko apologized, and Kyiv's police chief, Valery Koryak, offered his resignation.

Inside the Kyiv mayor's office Monday, officially unoccupied since Leonid Chernovetsky resigned in June 2012, protesters prepared food as doctors treated the wounded and activists napped on the floor. Activists spray-painted "Revolution Headquarters" across the building.

'Like a pogrom'

International reaction has proved varied. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government's pitting itself against the European Union in the tug-of-war over Ukraine helped start the protests, has denounced the demonstrations, calling them "more like a pogrom than a revolution."

In the United States, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a Monday briefing that the protests did not resemble a coup. "We certainly do not consider peaceful demonstrations coup attempts," Carney said. "The violence by government authorities against peaceful demonstrators in Kiev on Saturday morning was unacceptable," he added.

Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the huge rallies showed "the heart of Ukrainian people beats in a European way."

The EU has set the release of Yanukovych's top rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - sentenced in 2011 on abuse-of-power charges many call drummed up - as a key condition for any deal to increase trade ties with Ukraine and allow for the country's eventual accession to the body. The opposition believes that Yanukovych cannot afford to release the fiery Orange Revolution leader from jail ahead of 2015 presidential elections.

In a phone call on Monday, Yanukovych asked European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to receive his aides to further discuss the pact, the EU announced.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)