KIEV – Riot police moved into central Kiev early on Monday afternoon in what appeared to be preparations by the Ukrainian government to regain control of Independence Square and Kiev city hall, occupied by anti-government protesters for the past week.
Opposition leaders urged supporters to defend Independence Square, the main protest site. The stand-off follows weeks of unrest after a U-turn on a free-trade deal with the EU.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich backed a call for talks with the opposition on Monday to end the weeks of protests in Kiev.
The pro-Europe demonstrators barricaded their protest camp in preparation for police intervention.
As riot police took up new positions in the capital, heavyweight boxing champion-turned-opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko called on the protesters to stand their ground, and warned Yanukovich that he would have blood on his hands if security forces tried to end the standoff violently.
Klitschko later tweeted that some protest barricades were being taken down by police in a southern part of the city.
Across town, police dismantled protest tents to free the main road near the government headquarters and herded protesters back.
The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Kiev says there are far more police in the city centre than on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of people came out onto the streets.
US Vice President Joe Biden spoke over the phone to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych earlier, expressing “deep concern” about the situation in Kiev and urged dialogue with the opposition.
“[Mr Biden] noted that violence has no place in a democratic society and is incompatible with our strategic relationship,” the White House said in a statement.
Police were seen forcing protesters out of two streets where, according to the Interior Ministry, they were blocking access to administrative buildings.
Some barricades and tents were also removed
at atleast two sites.
Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka warned protesters to stop causing “anarchy and lawlessness” by blocking the buildings.
The ministry said no action was being taken on Independence Square itself.
The protesters have vowed to defend Independence Square, the focal point of the demonstrations.
Masked men with guns raided the party headquarters of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and took a computer server, said a spokeswoman who blamed the authorities.
With pressure growing on a shaky economy, the presidential website said Yanukovich supported a proposal for round-table talks involving the authorities and the opposition as a possible “platform for mutual understanding”.
No date was given for when the reconciliation talks could be held. Nor was it clear what the united opposition’s reaction to Yanukovich’s proposal would be.
The party’s parliamentary leader, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, is one of the main organizers of the protest movement, which has ballooned in recent days to dominate the streets of Kiev and pressure President Viktor F. Yanukovich after he refused to sign a trade deal with the European Union.
But the party is best known as the opposition coalition formed by the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, whose release has long been demanded by Western leaders.
“They came without any notice, without any explanations, fully armed,” said Natalia Lysova, a spokeswoman for Fatherland who often accompanies Tymoshenko’s daughter, Evgenia, at public appearances.
“They broke the door, took all the servers and left,” Lysova said, adding that the security officers did not arrest anyone, according the NYT.
On Sunday, the security service, known as the S.B.U., issued a curt statement saying that it had opened an investigation into possible treason charges against unnamed politicians.
At a news conference with other protest leaders, Yatsenyuk said on Monday that he had been summoned for questioning on Tuesday.
So far, the authorities seem to be holding back from similar investigations of the other two parliamentary leaders at the forefront of the protests, the champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, of the Udar party; and Oleg Tyganibok, of the nationalist Svoboda party.
The raid and police remobilization brought a fresh round of warnings from Western leaders, who reacted in alarm after the security forces violently cracked down on protesters on Nov. 30.
The American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, quickly issued a statement on Twitter cautioning against a crackdown. “Peaceful demonstrators must be allowed to continue,” Pyatt wrote. “Dialogue and nonviolence key, world watching. Opportunity must not be lost.”
The European Union said that Catherine Ashton, the union’s foreign affairs chief, would travel to Kiev this week to try to ease tensions.
Many of the protesters suspect Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of trying to model a new Russian-led customs union on the Soviet Union. So far, only Belarus and Kazakhstan have joined it.