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4 top Ukraine officials investigated over crackdown

Opposition calls it a half-measure

KIEV — Ukrainian authorities on Saturday moved to appease the thousands of demonstrators who have been barricaded in the center of the Ukrainian capital for weeks by opening investigations against four top officials over the violent police response to a small antigovernment demonstration last month.

But the opposition said the move was a half-measure that will not get them off the street.

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The brutal police raid in the early hours of Nov. 30 galvanized the pro-Western protests sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to back away from signing a key integration treaty with the European Union, and instead turned toward Russia. Since that day’s violence, protesters have also been demanding Yanukovych’s ouster and early elections.

The deputy head of the national security council, the head of the Kiev city administration, as well as the then-head of Kiev police and his deputy are being investigated on suspicion of abuse of office in the crackdown on protesters, Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said. Prosecutors will seek to place them under house arrest.

After Pshonka’s announcement, Yanukovych suspended two of the senior officials under investigation, Kiev city head Oleksandr Popov and the deputy head of the national security council, Volodymyr Syvkovych, while the inquiry continues.

The opposition said the move was only a half-measure, saying more heads need to roll. Protesters have also demanded that the president fire two of his closest allies: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, whom they say are responsible for the Nov. 30 crackdown.

‘‘Each of the persons named has their own bosses who could not have not known about this crime,’’ said the opposition Udar party, led by boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko.

Hennady Moskal, a member of the Fatherland opposition party, said the four officials are being used as scapegoats to protect their higher-ups.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of government supporters gathered in the center of Kiev for a large counterrally in a square adjacent to the opposition rally on Saturday.

The two demonstrations were peaceful but the atmosphere was tense as rows of riot police and barricades erected by opposition protesters separated the groups.

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