By David M. Herszenhorn
New York Times News Service
KIEV, Ukraine — With President Viktor Yanukovych and anti-government demonstrators at an impasse here, a cease-fire disintegrated on Friday night as the Ukrainian capital convulsed in renewed violence and fire bombs lit up the night sky.
Earlier Friday, civil unrest had spread across the country as protesters laid siege to government buildings in at least nine other cities — occupying some and thronging outside others.
The widening turmoil, in the central Ukrainian cities of Khmelnitsky, Zhytomyr and Cherkasy, as well as in the western strongholds of Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk, Rivne and Chernivtsi, showed that the authorities, including the elite Berkut riot police and Interior Ministry troops, were outnumbered and at risk of being spread too thin.
Officials say there are 3,000 to 4,000 specially trained Berkut officers, and an additional 8,000 to 9,000 Interior Ministry troops, deployed across the country. Throughout the now two-month uprising, there have often been many more protesters than that on the streets of Kiev. And some officers, particularly in the west, are believed to side with the opposition.
In Rivne, demonstrators demanded that riot police units deployed to Kiev be sent home.
In Kiev, efforts to defuse the crisis suffered a major setback as the police fired rubber bullets at protesters along the main line of contact near the Dynamo soccer stadium shortly after 10:30 p.m. Friday, while demonstrators hurled stones, fire bombs and even firecrackers that exploded in a rainbow of colors — at times illuminating the clash with oddly festive plumes of light.
In a scene that veered from primeval to apocalyptic, demonstrators used sticks to hit barrels and sheets of metal, creating a savage drumbeat as an audio backdrop, while billows of black smoke rose from piles of burning car tires along a barrier made of bags of snow. Fighters raced to the scene carrying more tires and a motley assortment of weaponry, including baseball bats, sticks and pipes.
During a meeting with religious leaders in Kiev earlier in the day, Yanukovych had vowed to restore stability and expressed frustration that opposition leaders seemed unable to exert much influence over protesters who had clashed with the police this week.
“I will do everything to stop this conflict, to stop violence and establish stability — certainly to stop radicals,” Yanukovych said during the meeting, according to a statement released by his office. “If we manage to stop them amicably, we will stop them amicably. Otherwise we will use all legal methods.”