Ukrainian authorities on Saturday conceded to one of the demands of weeks-long protests gripping the capital, opening investigations against four top officials and suspending two of them from office over the violent police response to a small demonstration last month. But the opposition said the move was a half-measure unlikely to get them off the street.
The brutal police raid on 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.
Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said that 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, according to his spokeswoman Margarita Velkova. Prosecutors will seek to place the suspects under house arrest.
Shortly 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 investigation continues.
But the opposition signaled that the move was only a half-measure, saying more heads need to roll. Protesters have also demanded that the president fires two of his closest allies: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, whom they say as responsible for the Nov. 30 crackdown.
"Each of the persons named has their own bosses who could not have not known about this crime," the opposition Udar party, led by boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of government supporters gathered in the center of Kiev for a large counter-rally 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.
Some in the pro-government crowd admitted to having been bused in and paid to participate.
Oleh Koloburda, a 43-year-old miner from the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych's stronghold, said he was paid 200 hryvna ($25) and brought here by bus. "I believe in Yanukovych with my entire soul. We chose him, he is one of us," Koloburda said.
Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.