Ukraine's government has no immediate plans to declare a state of emergency, its foreign minister said Monday, despite persistent fears that authorities were preparing to end spreading protests by force.
Earlier, Justice Minister Elena Lukash said she would ask for a state of emergency to be declared if protesters did not leave the ministry building they seized overnight. Protesters left the building in Kyiv in the afternoon but continued to picket outside.
Although the building's seizure ended, it underlined protesters' growing inclination to take radical action after two months of largely peaceful demonstrations. Long-brewing anger boiled over into violence a week ago when protesters launched into clashes with police, infuriated by harsh new anti-protest laws hurriedly pushed through by President Viktor Yanukovych.
Three protesters died in the clashes last week, two of whom were shot by hunting rifles, which police insist they do not use. With protesters now willing to risk injury, a state of emergency would be likely to set off substantial fighting on the streets of the capital.
"Today, such a measure is not on the table," Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara told journalists.
EU foreign police chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that she was alarmed by reports about the government considering a state of emergency and warned that such a move "would trigger a further downward spiral for Ukraine which would benefit no one."
The protests began in late November when Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union and sought a bailout loan from Russia. The demonstrations grew in size and intensity after police violently dispersed two gatherings. Demonstrators then set up a large tent camp on Kyiv's main square.
After Yanukovych approved the new anti-protest laws, demonstrations spread into other parts of the country, including to some cities in the Russian-speaking east, the base of Yanukovych's support.