Ukrainian authorities warn protesters they will be treated as criminals

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The Ukrainian prime minister has warned protesters they are committing a criminal offence if they block or occupy official buildings.

His announcement came as demonstrators blocked off government premises in the centre of Kyiv, preventing staff from getting to work.

Mykola Azarov told a meeting of Cabinet ministers that “certain political forces which don’t have any constructive agenda are directing street protests to violence, unlawful occupation of administrative and communal buildings, blocking the functioning of state institutions. This is a criminal offence”

He added that “so-called leaders of street protests” must bear criminal responsibility.

Nine protesters including the editor of a regional newspaper have already been detained. They face up to seven years in jail, accused of being a “danger to society.” Several are still suffering from head injuries and concussion after being beaten by riot police at the rallies.

The opposition has condemned the “fierce and inappropriate use of force” by riot police in Kyiv.

In western Ukraine, which is mainly pro-European, a general strike has been underway since Monday, with only essential staff such as medical employees continuing to work.

University students in western and central Ukraine have joined the walk-out as have many of their lecturers.

Many come into Kyiv daily to join the protests.

One demonstrator explained: “People are fighting for their rights.There are lots of young people who are thinking about their future, the future of their country, and a future as part of Europe. They are defending their rights.”

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