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Rivals Face Off in Kiev Amid Police Violence Probe

Despite promise of investigation into police violence, protesters' anti-government fervor 'unlikely to be dampened'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Ukrainian opposition supporters shout at supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as police separate pro-EU protesters rallying on Independence Square and Yanukovych supporters rallying on European Square in Kiev on December 14, 2013 (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)In an attempt to appease the demonstrators who, despite increasing police violence, have for weeks have camped in the streets of Kiev, Ukraine in a growing call for revolution, authorities announced Saturday the opening of an investigation into the officials responsible for a vicious crackdown on protesting students last month.

Al Jazeera reports:

Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said that the deputy head of the national security council, the head of the Kiev city administration, as well as the head of Kiev police and his deputy are being investigated on suspicion of abuse of office in the crackdown on protesters, according to his spokeswoman Margarita Velkova. Prosecutors will seek to place the suspects under house arrest. [...]

Shortly after Pshonka's announcement, President Viktor Yanukovych suspended two of the senior officials under investigation, Kiev city head Oleksandr Popov and deputy head of the national security Council Volodymyr Syvkovych.

He stopped short, however, of fulfilling the protesters' demand that the president fire two of his closed allies:  Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the beleaguered Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, whom the protesters view as responsible for the crackdown.

The officials are being investigated for their role in the November 30 crackdown when dozens of protesters, mostly students, were violently evicted from Kiev's Independence Square. Many were beaten on the head and limbs and dragged on the ground.

Amid news of the investigation, tens of thousands of Ukranians took to the streets of Kiev Saturday in a set of rival protests. Reuters reports Ukrainians in support of President Viktor Yanukovich were separated by a line of riot police from the anti-government protesters who had camped out ahead of a mass opposition rally scheduled for Sunday.

The Ukrainian ruling Party of Regions estimates that some 200,000 Yanukovich supporters had come out Saturday to back the government's anti-EU move.

"Rais[ing] fears of fresh violence," Reuters reports, "buses that brought many of the pro-government protesters to Kiev from Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine - the traditional stronghold of the Party of Regions - were parked in streets around the rallying point in European Square."

Reuters continues:

Opposition demonstrators have been camping since November 21 in Independence Square - now known as the "Maidan", meaning "Square", or the "Euro-maidan" - in protest against Yanukovich's last minute refusal to sign an agreement bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union, in favor of stronger ties with Russia.

The protest has since grown in force and turned into an all-out movement against the president and his administration.

The report notes that the opposition's "anti-government fervor [is] unlikely to be dampened" by the announcement of the investigation or the president's dismissal of the two senior officials.

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