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Ukraine Tracks Protesters Through Cellphones Amid Clashes

Ukrainian priests stand between protesters and riot police during an anti-government protest Monday in Kiev.
Sergey Dolzhenko
EPA /Landov
Ukrainian priests stand between protesters and riot police during an anti-government protest Monday in Kiev.

We have news from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev: The New York Times is reporting that the Ukrainian government used technology to zero-in on the locations of cellphones in use Tuesday near clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters.

Shortly after midnight, the newspaper says, people near the fighting received a text message that read: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance."

The Times adds:

"The phrasing echoed language in a new law making participation in a protest deemed violent a crime punishable by imprisonment. The law took effect on Tuesday.

"This law and a package of other legislation passed by pro-government political parties in Parliament appeared modeled on rules in neighboring Russia, which has pioneered the coordination of legislation tightening rules on free speech and public assembly with technological capabilities."

The latest wave of protests began Sunday, when more than 100,000 people turned out in Kiev to denounce the new law. Some of those rallies turned violent. And the demonstrations show no sign of letting up.

The Associated Press reports that about 2,000 people braved heavy snow and freezing temperatures Tuesday to confront riot police. It says that "in one dramatic scene, three black-robed Orthodox priests, holding crosses and icons, walked in between the police and the protesters, causing the fighting to stop temporarily."

Meanwhile, Vitaly Klitschko, one of the opposition leaders, met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday. It's unclear whether those talks will accomplish anything.

The root of the conflict goes back to November, as NPR's Corey Flintoff told All Things Considered on Monday, when Yanukovych rejected a deal with the European Union, and instead signed an agreement with Russia. Corey said:

"That deal that Yanukovych rejected would have opened up greater trade and investment from the EU, but it would have also required Yanukovych to fight corruption and make democratic reforms. Instead, he made a deal with Russia's President [Vladimir] Putin that, as far as we know, at least, didn't require any reforms. Russia is lending Ukraine $15 billion. It's giving a big discount on the price of natural gas that the country relies on for most of its energy. And the opposition accuses Yanukovych of making the country so deeply indebted to Russia that it will never get out of Moscow's orbit."

Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday accused the European Union of "interfering" in Ukraine.

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.