KIEV, Ukraine -- Tensions in Ukraine spread far from its embattled capital on Thursday as hundreds of people in the city of Lviv stormed into the regional governor's office and forced him to write a letter of resignation.
Kiev, the capital, has been the epicenter of two months of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych after he turned away from closer ties to the 28-nation European Union in favor of getting a bailout loan from Russia. The protests have turned violent this week as pro-EU demonstrators feel Yanukovych has ignored their demands to resign, call a new election and rescind his harsh laws against protesters.
Lviv is one of the major cities in
western Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych is thin. The governor, Oleh Salo,
who was appointed by Yanukovych, later insisted he acted under duress and was
rescinding his resignation.
The largely peaceful protests against Yanukovych's decision to shun the EU and turn toward Moscow in November descended into violence on Sunday. CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports that workers at one makeshift field clinic in Kiev said five people were killed on Wednesday. The government put the figure at two, confirming they died of gunshot wounds. The latest round in Ukraine's knockdown, drag-out fight began after the government imposed strict new laws effectively outlawing all forms of protest. D'Agata notes that, while the new laws were designed to curtail the increasing demonstrations, they in fact had the opposite effect, igniting a furious backlash.
Opposition leaders have demanded that Yanukovych must make concessions by Thursday evening – including calling early elections -- or face renewed clashes between protesters and police in Kiev.
However, there was no indication that Yanukovych's call for a session of parliament represented an inclination to compromise with opposition protesters, since his backers hold a majority of seats in parliament.
As three opposition leaders prepared to hold another round of talks with Yanukovych on Thursday, protesters in Kiev extinguished burning barricades shielding them from police, enforcing a tenuous peace ahead of the evening deadline. The fires had coated downtown Kiev with thick black smoke.
The fragile truce came after three main opposition leaders urged protesters late Wednesday to refrain from violence for 24 hours until their ultimatum to Yanukovych expired.
The new laws against protests triggered violence Sunday near the large tent camp on Kiev's main square where protesters have stood their ground around the clock for nearly two months.
According to the presidential web site, Yanukovych told parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybank the special session was necessary because "the situation demands an urgent settlement."
The Ukrainian parliament is known for dramatically contentious sessions that sometimes erupt into fistfights between legislators.
There was no immediate response to Yanukovych's parliament move from opposition leaders, who were waiting to be received by Yanukovych. But his staunch ally, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, has assumed a harsh stance against the protesters, calling their actions an attempted coup d'etat."It's not the opposition, it's rebels who are acting against us," Azarov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.