Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Freedom-of-Assembly Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On 31 December 2013 the Moscow police dispersed an opposition demonstration meeting on Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the "right to assemble peacefully without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets." About 30 activists, including their leader, well-known writer Eduard Limonov, were arrested. The activists hold similar meetings on the 31st day of each month having 31 days. The demonstrations are invariably banned and dispersed by the police. On the same day another anti-Putin demonstration was dispersed near the Kremlin, with 10 activists arrested.

http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/strategy31/m.223062.html (photo)
http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/grani_ru/1229612-echo/ (photo)
http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/strategy31/m.223062.html (video)

Terror Attacks Hit Russian City of Volgograd

The death toll from two suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd climbed to 34 after two of the over 100 injured victims died, officials said. The two separate explosions ripped through Volgograd’s train station and the next day on a trolleybus. The attacks followed another attack two months ago and came weeks before Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February in the city of Sochi. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the two latest explosions.

http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1228672-echo/ (video)
http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1228886-echo/ (video)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Khodorkovsky Vows to Help Russian Political Prisoners

Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said he will do all he can to free other political prisoners. At a Berlin news conference, he said he would stay out of politics and that "the struggle for power is not for me". He said he only found out he was going to Berlin the day he was freed, adding that he would only go back to Russia if he was sure he could leave again. He said there was a need "to make sure that in Russia and in any other countries in the world there won't be political prisoners". "I will do everything I can so that there are none left," he added. Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released on Friday, after 10 years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.


Pussy Riot Members Released

The two imprisoned members of the punk group Pussy Riot walked free Monday under a presidential amnesty. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were freed after serving nearly 21 months of a two-year sentence for hooliganism. They were jailed for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Christ the Savior cathedral in protest at Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. Tolokonnikova, 25, shouted “Russia without Putin” as she left the prison hospital in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, where she had been receiving medical treatment after staging a hunger strike at her previous jail over conditions for inmates. Alyokhina was released earlier in the day from her penal colony in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region. She criticized the presidential amnesty as a “profanation” that only applied to a small minority of convicts.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Khodorkovsky Released

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Friday pardoning former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of Russia’s most famous prisoners. The Kremlin said that the pardon for Khodorkovsky had been granted on humanitarian grounds, and would come into force straightaway. Khodorkovsky's lawyers, who appeared to be stunned by the news of the decision when it was announced by Putin on Thursday, confirmed that their client could walk free Friday. "Such a decree should be carried out immediately," said lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant. Russian prison authorities said in a statement that the decree meant Khodorkovsky was free from further prison punishment. A prison service spokesman said that Khodorkovsky could leave incarceration as early as Friday. Later Klyuvgant said that according to the prison authorities Khodorkovsky has already left the prison.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Putin Says He Will Pardon Khodorkovsky

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will in the nearest future pardon jailed former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin said Khodorkovsky appealed for clemency in a letter. “[Khodorkovsky] cites humanitarian reasons,” Putin told reporters after the end of his marathon four-hour press conference in Moscow. “A far as Khodorkovsky is concerned, I have already spoken about this, Mikhail Borisovich should in line with the law have written the necessary document, which he didn’t do, but just recently he wrote this document and addressed me with an appeal for clemency,” he said. Putin said Khodorkovsky had already spent 10 years in jail for a serious crime and that citing humanitarian concerns, notably his sick mother, he would take the decision on the pardon in the nearest time. “The order for the pardon will issued and the person will be freed,” he said. Khodorkovsky's legal team appeared confused by what has come as a fully unexpected development. "He never filed [an appeal for pardon], and we haven't had any recent information about anyone appealing on his behalf. We don't have this information, although we've received a number of pardon appeals on his behalf of other people over the years," said Vadim Klyuvgant, a lawyer for Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were jailed in 2005 and saw their sentences extended until August 2014 and May 2014, respectively, following a second trial on related charges in 2010.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1221357-echo/ (video)

EU Concerned by Upsurge in Russians Seeking Asylum

The European Union is concerned by an upsurge in the number of Russians applying for asylum in Europe, the bloc’s envoy to Russia said Wednesday. “Their number has almost quadrupled in the second quarter of 2013 as compared with the same period last year,” EU Ambassador to Russia Vygaudas Usackas said. He said that more than 23,000 Russians requested asylum in Europe last year, becoming the third largest group of asylum seekers after residents of Afghanistan and Syria.


Medvedev Proposes Turning Sochi into Gambling

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has proposed turning Sochi, the venue for the Winter Olympics next year, into a gambling zone, according to a newspaper report Thursday. Medvedev made the suggestion at a meeting earlier this week as the government seeks ways to offset the losses expected to be made by investors who have put large amounts of money into the development of Sochi ahead of the Olympics, Kommersant newspaper reported. With a price tag of over $50 billion, the Sochi games are the most expensive Olympics of all time. Businessmen and state-owned companies have reportedly sought state assistance to pay back loans taken out to pay for projects they are backing in Sochi. The Kremlin banned gambling in Russia in 2009, except for four designated zones across the country. These zones include the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the country’s Far East, the southern Krasnodar Territory and Siberia’s Altai region. A committee to look at Medvedev’s proposal to add Sochi to this list of gambling zones has been set up under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Kommersant reported.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Azerbaijan's Arrest of Vote Monitor Draws Outcry

The arrest of an independent election monitor in the oil-rich authoritarian former Soviet state of Azerbaijan drew vocal international condemnation Tuesday. A court in the capital, Baku, on Monday ordered that Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center chairman Anar Mammadli be detained for three months as investigations are carried out into claims he was engaged in illegal entrepreneurship. The center, which has for years faced routine harassment from the authorities, conducted extensive monitoring of widely criticized October elections that secured a third term in power for iron-fisted President Ilham Aliyev. The US Embassy in Azerbaijan said it was deeply troubled by Mammadli’s arrest and that it was compelled to question whether the “detention is related to his organization's election monitoring and reporting activities.”


Russia Gives Ukraine Cheap Gas, Multibillion Dollar Loan

Russia on Tuesday sharply lowered natural gas prices for Ukraine and provided its economically struggling neighbor with a multibillion loan package in a move that Ukraine’s government may hope will spell an end to ongoing street protests. President Vladimir Putin announced at a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in Moscow that Russia will sell gas to Ukraine’s Naftogaz energy company for $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meters, well below the current level of more than $400. Putin said, however, the price may only be lowered temporarily. “We believe this is a temporary decision, by which it is mean that long-term agreements should and will be signed. This concerns both supplies to Ukraine and securing uninterrupted transit to our consumers in Europe,” Putin said after the meeting. Russia will also dip into its national wealth fund to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian eurobonds, Putin said. That will provide desperately needed liquidity for Ukraine, which is currently facing a looming balance of payments crisis.


Obama to Skip Sochi Games in Apparent Snub Over Anti-Gay Law

US President Barack Obama dealt a sharp reprimand to Russia over its anti-gay laws on Tuesday by including two openly homosexual athletes in the official delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and declining to attend the Games himself. The White House announced that Billie Jean King, a gay former tennis champion, and Caitlin Cahow, a gay Olympic medalist in ice hockey, would be included in the US delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in February. For the first time since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, the US president, vice president and first lady are to be absent from both delegations. White House officials said in a statement that Obama would be too busy to attend the Games, but that the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States.”


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Georgia Doubles Wine Exports as Russian Market Reopens

Russia bought almost half of all wine exported by Georgia in 2013, just months after a longtime ban was lifted, Georgia’s agriculture ministry said Monday. Georgia sold 21.8 million bottles to Russia after Moscow ended an embargo in June that had been imposed in 2006. The level of demand has prompted the Caucasus nation to double its forecast for Russian wine sales in 2014 from 12-15 million bottles to more than 30 million, Georgy Seturidze, head of the Georgian-Russian Economic Cooperation Center, told Prime news agency. The reopening of the Russian market helped Georgia to double wine exports this year to 44.7 million bottles, the ministry’s annual report showed. It sold wine to 48 countries worldwide in 2013. Russia banned imports of Georgian wines, mineral water and agricultural products in 2006, citing low quality of such goods. The measure, which Georgia described as politically motivated, was imposed as relations soured between the Kremlin and Georgia’s pro-Western leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Talks about lifting the ban began shortly after the opposition Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili won parliamentary elections last year. The Georgian Dream’s candidate, Georgy Margvelashvili, won October’s presidential election to succeed Saakasvhili. In March, Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, cleared 36 Georgian winemakers and four mineral water producers to resume deliveries to Russia. Exports of Georgian wine and other agricultural goods to Russia resumed in June.


Russia Denies Blackmailing Ukraine Over EU Deal

Russia has never threatened Ukraine with sanctions over a cooperation agreement with the European Union, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. But Moscow did warn Kiev in advance that Ukraine could lose its favorable status in trade relations with Russia, Lavrov said. “We have not blackmailed anyone,” the minister told Rossiya 24 television after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels. “We are not talking about sanctions, we are simply saying that we would return to normal trade relations with Ukraine or any other country that would choose this way [association with EU].” Lavrov said that the sides agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty should be respected and that people should have a free choice as to how they want their state to develop.


US Hands Armenian Gang Member 8-Year Prison Term

An alleged Armenian gang leader has been sentenced to eight years in prison in California after pleading guilty to involvement in a $2 million bank card scam, as well as drug and weapons charges. Karo Yerkanyan, described by US prosecutors as a leader of the “Armenian Power” gang in California, was sentenced to five years of supervised release last week in addition to the eight-year prison term on charges related to racketeering, bank fraud, identity theft, marijuana trafficking and illegal firearms possession, according to federal court documents. Yerkanyan, who is also known by the nickname “Guilty,” pleaded guilty in a federal court to involvement in a scam that used illegally obtained information from victims’ bank cards to open fraudulent bank accounts, loans and credit lines at HSBC Bank and Bank of America, US prosecutors said in September. The information was stolen using so-called “skimming” devices to steal customers’ bank information at cash registers, causing more than $2 million in damages, prosecutors said.


McDonald’s Appeals Fine for Hiring Illegal Migrant in Russia

Fast food giant McDonald’s has lodged an appeal with Russia’s highest commercial court against a fine imposed for employing an illegal immigrant. The company was fined 300,000 rubles ($9,100) by the Federal Migration Service after one of its restaurants hired a woman from Kyrgyzstan who did not have a work permit. The American-owned chain is taking its case to Russia’s Supreme Court of Arbitration after an initial appeal was rejected by the Moscow arbitration court in April. The Moscow court rejected McDonald’s defense that the woman had claimed in documents to be a Russian citizen, saying that the material had been added to company files after she was detained. Two lower courts had already upheld the judgment against the company. Anti-migrant sentiment has increased in Russia in the past 10 years in reaction to a huge influx of migrant workers from the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised repeatedly to take a tough stance on immigration to the capital during his recent successful election campaign.


Russian Governor Beaten and Robbed in French Home

The governor of a Russian region has been assaulted and robbed of $275,000 worth of jewellery whilst in his house in the south of France, his spokeswoman said Tuesday. Lev Kuznetsov, the governor of Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia, was shot with an air gun by intruders and his wife was hit with a baton during the attack on Saturday, according to his spokeswoman Stella Alekseeva. The house where the incident took place is in Antibes on France's south coast, and is reportedly owned by Kuznetsov, who has held the post of Krasnoyarsk governor since 2010. “The governor was on a short break when this unpleasant incident occurred,” said Alekseeva, adding that Kuznetsov was feeling better and had already resumed his official duties.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kremlin's New Anti-Corruption Chief Accused of Plagiarizing Thesis

A grassroots anti-plagiarism group said Tuesday that the head of the Kremlin’s newly created anti-corruption department ripped off a significant portion of his doctoral thesis. Oleg Plokhoi – whose name, incidentally, means “bad” in Russian – defended his dissertation at the Federal Prison Service’s in-house judicial academy in 2006. But Dissernet.org claimed that about 62 of 152 pages in the thesis on staffing principles of Russian law enforcements had been borrowed from other books without proper attribution. Plokhoi, 45, who was appointed to his job last week by President Vladimir Putin, had not commented on the group’s allegations as of this article’s publication. He served in the KGB and its successor, the FSB, prior to joining the Kremlin administration in 1999. Dissernet.org was formed in 2011 and bases its studies on digital text analysis services. It has identified what it says is theft of written work by numerous high-ranking officials, including Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin and several federal legislators. Most have denied allegations of plagiarism.

http://navalny.livejournal.com/889132.html (Oleg Plokhoi, photo)

Putin Shuts Down RIA Novosti News Agency

In a surprise decree published on the Kremlin’s website on Monday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin “liquidated” the RIA Novosti news agency and created a new organization called Rossia Segodnya , or Russia Today — in what many commentators see as a decision to eliminate one of the most balanced news outlets in the Kremlin’s sprawling portfolio of news agencies, newspapers and television stations. “The main focus of the International News Agency Russia Today is to inform abroad about the State Policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation,” the decree said. In contrast to state-owned Federal television channels, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and have a reputation for screening hatchet jobs on opposition figures, RIA Novosti appeared to have a licence to operate relatively freely, reporting controversial stories including the 2012 anti-Putin protests in Moscow, and more recently the pro-Europe protests in Ukraine, with little if any bias. In particular, RIA's website was a major source of news for this blog.


Ukrainian Police Launch Assault on Kiev Barricades

Elite riot police and Interior Ministry forces clashed with opposition supporters in the Ukrainian capital Kiev early Wednesday, dismantling barricades that protesters put up in the streets to disrupt access to government buildings. Most barricades were removed from the downtown Independence Square, but a crowd estimated by opposition leaders at some 25,000 resisted attempts to disperse them. At least 10 Interior Ministry troops were injured in the clashes, the ministry said. Media reported several injured among the protesters, who managed to retake the square after losing ground in the initial police assault. US Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton denounced the overnight crackdown.


Monday, December 9, 2013

As Ukraine Opposition Rallies Intensify, Lenin Statue Falls

Several hundred thousand people gathered in the Ukrainian capital Sunday for one of the largest protest rallies in the former Soviet nation’s history, throwing down the gauntlet to a government that has resisted calls for negotiation with the opposition. In an incident that may spark criminal investigations and cast a shadow over the generally pacific events, however, a group of nationalists ripped down a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. The mass assembly in Kiev was the biggest to date since the government last month pulled out of preparations to sign landmark political and trade deals with the EU, sparking widespread indignation across Ukraine. In an indication that the standoff has provoked international concern, the European Commission announced Sunday that EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Kiev next week to assist in seeking a way out of the political impasse. Authorities have so far displayed little desire to compromise with the opposition, and have instead limited themselves to issuing ominous warnings that demonstrations could tip over into unrest.


Friday, December 6, 2013

US Charges Russian Diplomats in $1.5M Health Care Fraud Case

Dozens of current or former Russian diplomats and their spouses stationed in New York City have been charged in the alleged defrauding of $1.5 million from a government health care program aimed at helping the poor, US federal prosecutors said Thursday. The 49 defendants are accused of involvement in the “systematic” fraudulent submission of falsified applications for benefits under the US health care program Medicaid, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday. During the period of the purported fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013, the defendants falsely underreported their income or fraudulently claimed that their children were US citizens to obtain Medicaid benefits associated with costs for pregnancy, birth and young children, US prosecutors allege. During the same period the defendants spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on luxury vacations and expensive watches, clothes, shoes and jewelry at luxury retailers like Swarovski, Prada and Tiffany & Co., the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said in the statement.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Duma Deputies Fistfight, Golden Gun Reported

A disagreement about a statue in a State Duma deputy's native republic of Chechnya led to two lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party getting involved in a fistfight that ended when a golden gun reportedly fell from Chechen lawmaker Adam Delimkhanov's pocket. The scuffle kicked off Tuesday near an elevator in the Duma building, where Delimkhanov approached fellow deputy Alexei Zhuravlyov and started “making claims” about his criticism of the opening of a monument to Chechen women that resisted Russian troops during the region's conquest in the 19th century, Zhuravlyov's spokeswoman Sofya Cherepanova said. According to Cherepanova, many witnesses saw that Delimkhanov began the fight with a punch to Zhuravlyov's face and also threatened to kill the fellow United Russia member. After the fight, an ambulance arrived at the Duma to provide the lawmakers with first aid. Zhuravlyov was left with bruises on his nasal bridge and eyebrow, the deputy's spokeswoman Cherepanova said, adding that a friend of the lawmaker who had come to visit him in the Duma and tried to stop the fight had to be hospitalized and was missing two of his front teeth. The two lawmakers had made peace by late Wednesday, however. They announced the reconciliation after talking to Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin and United Russia's Duma faction leader Vladimir Vasilyev. Though the deputies claim to have moved beyond their fight, observers remained worried about whether and how Delimkhanov brought a gun through metal detectors in the Duma. Delimkhanov is suspected of masterminding the 2009 murder of Chechen military commander Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai, where the attackers discarded a gold-plated handgun. The United Russia deputy had been on an international wanted list at the request of the United Arab Emirates, before Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov visited the UAE and local investigators dropped the charges against Delimkhanov without explanation in July 2012.


http://kp.ua/daily/070409/175913/ (golden gun; 2009 Dubai police photo)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Navalny Disbarred

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who originally became well-known as a minority shareholder lawyer and anti-corruption activist, was stripped of his advocate status in the wake of his conviction in a controversial Kirovles case. Navalny commented that the Moscow Bar had no other option under the current legislation but to disbar him. Navalny was sentenced to a suspended 5 year jail term in the Kirovles case that he calls politically motivated. Currently Navalny is being investigated on similar charges in the equally controversial Ives Rocher case.


Ukraine's Ruling Party Calls Supporters Onto the Streets

Ukraine’s ruling party has called for its supporters to come out onto the streets in defense of government buildings as the political stand-off in the former Soviet nation continued Wednesday. President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions said in a statement released late Tuesday that it was mobilizing its backers to ensure the continued work of the government. “Kiev is not the capital of the opposition, it is the capital of our whole country,” the party said. The statement appears to signal unwillingness by the government to compromise with an increasingly emboldened protest movement that was sparked last month by the Cabinet’s decision to back away from a landmark trade and political pact with the European Union.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bolshoi Star Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail for Acid Attack

A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced a star ballet dancer at the Bolshoi Theater to six years in jail for organizing an acid attack on his troupe’s artistic director, bringing a highly charged trial to a close. The judge at Meshchansky Court ruled that Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko and two co-defendants were guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, RIA Novosti’s RAPSI legal news service reported. Sergei Filin sustained third-degree burns to his face and eyes in the attack in January. The judge said in her verdict that Dmitrichenko had organized the attack because he was disgruntled at the way Filin was acquitting his duties. Dmitrichenko has claimed he only wanted to have Filin beaten up, but the judge dismissed the testimony as an attempt to avoid criminal responsibility.


Putin Condemns Ukraine Protests as 'Pogroms'

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that events unfolding in Ukraine should not be described as a revolution, but were rather more reminiscent of a “pogrom.” The Russian leader said ongoing mass demonstrations were unrelated to Ukraine’s recent decision to pull back from signing a series of landmark deals for closer economic integration with the EU. “This internal political process is an attempt by the opposition to destabilize the existing legitimate rule in the country,” Putin said during a visit to the former Soviet nation of Armenia. The remarks come amid growing public irritation among Kremlin officials over suggestions that Ukraine reversed course on its plans with the EU under pressure from Russia. On Monday evening, crowds at Kiev’s central Independence Square continued to swell as demonstrators reinforced barricades around the space that served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the center of the city Sunday in a mainly peaceful rally, although there were ugly scenes of violence when police clashed with mobs seeking to storm the presidential administration building.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/1209817-echo/ (photo, video)

Russia Cancels Export Duties for Gas and Diamonds to Armenia

Russia and Armenia on Monday signed an intergovernmental agreement to cancel export duties for supplies of natural gas, oil products and diamonds to the South Caucasus nation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the deal with his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, during a high-level visit to the country. Armenia decided in September to join the Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. A roadmap on Yerevan’s admission is to be signed later in December. Sargsyan told journalists on Monday that his country would take the required steps to join the union as soon as possible, and Putin praised Armenia for its efforts. Reuters reported that some 500 people went out to the Armenian capital’s streets on Monday to protest the country’s plans to join the union. Gazeta.ru reported that more than 100 protesters were detained.


EU, Ukraine Agree to Continue Deal Talks

The presidents of Ukraine and the European Commission on Monday agreed to continue talks regarding association and free-trade deals that Ukraine recently said it would postpone. “The European Commission stands ready to discuss aspects of implementation related to the agreements already initialed, but not to reopen any kind of negotiations,” the European Commission said in a statement. Ukrainian President Yanukovych phoned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, asking him “to receive a delegation from Ukraine to have a discussion on some aspects of the association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free-trade area,” the statement reads.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Barricades Erected Overnight in Kiev after Weekend Clashes

Protesters in the Ukrainian capital erected barricades early Monday morning after a weekend of violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Tensions are simmering in the former Soviet nation amid increasingly vocal calls for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of a decision to back away from closer integration with Europe. According to reports from the scene, barricades made from Christmas trees, city benches, parts of metal fences and traffic barriers were erected in Kiev’s Independence Square, which served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-5.


Protests Swell in Ukraine, Rioters Clash With Police

Police and protesters engaged in running street battles Sunday in front of Ukraine’s presidential administration in the capital as anger grows at a government decision to pull back from signing a deal for closer relations with the EU. Nearby in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them waving national flags, gathered in a separate peaceful demonstration on Independence Square. Discontent at the reversal over the conclusion of a series of EU deals that had been due to be signed last week is increasingly escalating into calls for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.


Ukraine Police Chief Apologizes for Violence

Ukraine's interior minister has apologized to Ukrainians over the police crackdown on pro-EU protesters in downtown Kiev but warned against mass disturbances, the UNIAN news agency said Sunday. “I want to apologize for the excessive use of force on the night of November 30 in Independence Square,” Vitaly Zakharchenko told session of the Interior Ministry Board Sunday. The minister warned thousands of protesters, starting a new rally in Kiev's Independence Square, the scene of violent crackdown on protesters Saturday, that police would respond.