A controversial anti-protest law has come into effect in Ukraine, despite violent rallies against the legislation that have taken place for the past two days, ignoring an appeal for calm by President Viktor Yanukovych.
The new law, which bans all forms of protests, was published in the official Golos Ukrainy, or Voice of Ukraine, newspaper, raising fears that the government would use excessive force to quell dissent.
The opposition and the West have condemned the bill, demanding that it be reversed, but the Interior Ministry said at least 32 protesters had been arrested in the most recent round of demonstrations.
Yanukovych made a call for calm on Monday, when demonstrators braved sub-zero temperatures and clashed with police over new anti-protest laws.
A statement issued on the presidential website said: “When peaceful actions have escalated into mass riots accompanied by demolition, arson and violence, I am confident that such phenomena threaten not only Kiev but the whole of the Ukraine. I call for dialogue, compromise and peace in our native land.”
The situation was tense in Kiev, with protesters occasionally charging against police lines guarding the passage to government buildings, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
The violence, which began on Sunday, came after Yanukovych pushed through an anti-protest law that significantly increased fines and imposed jail terms for unauthorised street protests.
The new law also prohibits activists from wearing helmets or masks to demonstrations, curbs free speech and limits the ability to investigate or monitor the activity of officials, including judges.
Sunday’s fighting left about 200 people wounded.
In an attempt to find a compromise, opposition leader and former boxer Vitali Klitschko travelled to Yanukovych’s home outside Kiev to meet him.
The president received Klitschko and promised on Monday to create a special commission of officials set up by national security council secretary Andriy Klyuyev to solve the crisis.
The move was announced by Klitscko’s party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, and the presidency.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels deplored the continued violence, saying the government was at fault for adopting the repressive laws.
The White House urged an end to the fighting, with US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden saying that Washington was deeply concerned and urged “all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation”.
“The US will continue to consider additional steps – including sanctions – in response to the use of violence,” Hayden added. [AlJazeera]