EU Official Heads To Ukraine Amid Protest Stalemate

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Kiev, Ukraine Protests

An anonymous CNN iReporter captured these images of protests held on Hrushevsky Street, Kiev, Ukraine, around midnight January 23, 2014. (CNN)

By Laura Smith-Spark and Victoria Butenko

KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) — A senior European Union official is due in Ukraine on Friday amid a stalemate between the president and the opposition, and days of clashes between police and protesters.

The commissioner for EU enlargement, Stefan Fule, is expected to arrive in the capital of Kiev as opposition leaders demand the resignation of the government and early elections.

In a Twitter post, the EU said foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a European Parliament delegation are also planning to travel to Ukraine next week.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters worked Friday morning to strengthen barricades set up in central Kiev streets, Ukraine’s official Ukrinform news agency reported.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko said early Friday that if protesters left the street where the violence has been focused, police would not seek to prosecute them.

He also promised police would not use force against those rallying in Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan.

A second round of talks Thursday between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders was fruitless, although both parties decided to keep talking.

Ukrainian anti-government protesters observed a truce of several hours with police to give the negotiations room for success.

‘No to his resignation’

Hundreds of protesters, who have been clashing with police in Kiev since Sunday, heard from boxer-turned-opposition leader Vitali Klitschko after the talks with the President, which lasted more than four hours.

“He said no to his resignation and Cabinet resignation,” Klitschko told opposition supporters who want the government to resign and start early elections, among other demands.

“It does not make sense to negotiate with someone who intends to cheat,” he said.

The sharp rhetoric was echoed by the President’s press office, which issued a statement after the talks.

“Unfortunately, for the second time, leaders of the opposition refused to declare the statement condemning extremist actions,” it said.

The President’s statement went on to say that “negotiations will be continued.”

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said 281 policemen have been injured since the violence erupted Sunday.

And as the protest movement spreads beyond the capital, 58 protesters were detained in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine, during an attempt to take over the regional state administration office, the ministry said.

Sweeping anti-protest laws

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov declined Thursday to apologize for the violence unfolding during the Kiev protests and told CNN’s Richard Quest that law enforcement officers acted within the law and did not have firearms.

Police were merely responding to an effort to overthrow the government, Azarov said, adding that Ukraine was not in Russia’s pocket.

Thousands of protesters have been braving the freezing cold to voice their anger about sweeping new anti-protest laws approved by parliament last week.

The clashes are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych’s decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead.

The controversial protest laws have sparked concerns they could be used to put down demonstrations and deny people the right to free speech.

They include provisions barring people from wearing helmets and masks to rallies, from setting up tents or sound equipment without prior police permission, and from traveling in convoys of more than five vehicles without authorization.

Journalist Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, and CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.

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