Russia faults West for meddling in Ukraine

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MUNICH -- The Russian government on Saturday accused the West of helping foment unrest in Ukraine as the country's opposition leaders sought outside help at a conference in Germany and vowed to continue anti-government protests.

Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the UDAR opposition party and a former heavyweight boxing champion, said demonstrators in Ukraine were "against the system" as he sparred on a panel at the Munich Security Conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Europeans were helping incite street violence.

"Why are many prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions, while back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" Mr. Lavrov said in remarks to the meeting. "Why don't we have condemnation of those who seize and hold government buildings and burn and torch the police and use nasty and anti-Semitic slogans?"

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's attempts to reduce tension in the wake of deadly clashes with demonstrators last week, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's resignation, have failed to clear the streets. Protests erupted in November after the government scrapped closer ties with Europe in favor of a bailout arrangement with Russia. More anti-government demonstrations are planned for today

Mr. Klitschko reiterated the opposition's demands, including freeing political prisoners, overhauling the constitution and paving the way for early elections.

He and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the Batkivshchyna party, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the conference in the Bavarian capital.

Mr. Kerry expressed his support and "encouraged the opposition to remain united and peaceful and to continue discussions with the government," according to a senior State Department official who asked not to be named, citing policy.

Mr. Kozhara, Ukraine's acting chief diplomat after the government resigned last week, said Mr. Yanukovych had met the demands of the protesters and renewed calls for talks. He said demonstrators didn't represent the interests of all Ukrainians, citing the 8 million ethnic Russians among Ukraine's 45 million people.

"Ukraine is not going to change her strategic course," Mr. Kozhara told the panel. He denounced protesters for attacking the police and throwing Molotov cocktails.

Mr. Kozhara's comments echoed a statement by Ukraine's Interior Ministry that claimed anti-government protesters in Kiev captured and beat a plainclothes policeman in the part of the city controlled by demonstrators.

While much attention has focused on the plight of protesters in the skirmishes and fighting in the streets during the civil unrest in Kiev, the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, said dozens of law enforcement officers have also suffered.

Protesters belonging to an organization called the Defense of Maidan, after the name of the central plaza they have occupied since November, detained the plainclothes police officer and escorted him to a building under the control of the opposition, known as the Headquarters of the Resistance.

"They took the policeman's badge, his personal belongings and also continued to strike him with multiple blows," the ministry's statement said. It also said that Yuri Levchenko, an official with the Svoboda political party, one of three opposition parties associated with the protests, had watched the beating without intervening.

The political opposition denied the entire account.

"This is an absolute lie," Mr. Levchenko said in a telephone interview, but one intended, he suggested, to balance reports Friday that an opposition leader, Dmytro Bulatov, had been tortured by having his hands nailed to a door, apparently by supporters of the government.

"They want to show they are not the only bad guys, that there are bad guys on the other side of the barricades, too," Mr. Levchenko said.

Mention of his name in the Interior Ministry statement, he said, could be a signal to surrogates of the authorities who are believed to be kidnapping opposition leaders that he should become a target.

Protest organizers say 26 people are unaccounted for since demonstrations began. The opposition says seven protesters have died -- three from gunshot wounds and one from exposure after being sprayed by a water cannon in freezing temperatures-- and 1,000 have been injured. Authorities have detained at least 116 people.


The New York Times contributed.


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