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Pro-European protestors remain in effective control of a large part of central Kiev nearly 24 hours after tens of thousands occupied the capital’s Independence Square in defiance of a court order on Sunday.
By Roland Oliphant, Kiev, and Reuters
9:11AM GMT 02 Dec 2013
Protesters have blocked off the Ukrainian government’s main headquarters in protest at its decision to suspend moves to deepen integration with Europe and to revive economic ties with Russia.
The atmosphere in the Ukrainian capital was peaceful but tense on Monday morning, as thousands of people angry about their government’s refusal to sign a trade and association deal with the European Union picketed government buildings and occupied the city’s central square for a second day running.
Several hundred people who barricaded themselves into the city’s Independence Square on Sunday night were joined by several thousand others on Monday morning in what many hope is the beginning of a revolution that will bring down the government of president Viktor Yanukovych.
While a line of riot police remained on guard outside the presidential administration building, which was the scene of violent clashes on Sunday, the police presence in the centre of Kiev was almost non-existent.
The authorities have made no attempt to clear the makeshift barricades protestors have erected around Independence Square and near government buildings in the city centre, or to evict them from City Hall, which has been occupied and converted into a kind of headquarters by the protestors.
While temperatures plunged below freezing overnight, protestors who entered the square during a march on Sunday used street furniture, scaffolding, and municipal Christmas decorations to build barricades at the main entrances to the square – effectively blocking the city’s main thoroughfare.
“We’re scared, but we’ve been scared already,” said Taras Usatel, a retired military doctor who described himself as one of the co-ordinators of the “revolutionary headquarters” established in City Hall, where protestors are sleeping in the corridors and have turned the cloakroom into a tea bar.
“This is not a state building. This is a public building, and we are putting it to public use.”
Opposition leaders addressing the crowd on Monday morning pledged to remain on the square until their demands – which include Mr Yanukovich’s resignation and the signing of the association agreement – are met.
“We were told to go back home and await further instructions. We simply could not get to work. All the doors are blocked,” said a government employee who tried to enter the building.
Transport was running smoothly in Kiev, however, despite the strike call.
Witnesses said a pro-Europe rally in Kiev on Sunday attracted about 350,000 people, the biggest protest in the capital since the “Orange Revolution” of nine years ago. Protesters called for Yanukovich to resign.