KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — With Ukraine's president out of the country and his opponents still boiling with anger, the country's political tensions Tuesday appeared mired in a standoff as large protest rallies showed no sign of letting up.
The opposition lost its attempt to topple the government by parliamentary means when a vote of no-confidence they called failed by a sizeable margin. Protest leaders, however disappointed, vowed to continue their demonstrations.
Soon after the vote, about 5,000 protesters gathered outside the presidential administration building, then moved to the capital's central Independence Square, where the crowd grew to more than 10,000, according to police estimates.
The opposition called for the parliamentary vote in protest both of President Viktor Yanukovych's shelving of a long-anticipated agreement to deepen political and economic ties with the European Union, and the violent tactics used by police to disperse demonstrators protesting that decision.
The dispute has brought crowds of up to 300,000 people to the streets of Kiev, the largest outpouring of public anger since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
The government appears to recognize that the police violence, rather than stifling protest, may instead have galvanized long-brewing frustrations. But while Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, attending the parliamentary session with his Cabinet, apologized for the violence, he also made a baleful vow.
"We have extended our hand to you, but if we encounter a fist, I will be frank, we have enough force," he said.
As the dispute roiled, Yanukovych left on an official visit to China, where he is expected to sign an array of economic agreements, his office said. With him gone until Friday, the prospects for a definitive development in the next few days seem small.
There is also question as to how long protesters' determination will last as the dead of winter sets in and the holiday period approaches, noted Adrian Karatnycky, a Ukraine analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank.
"All these things suggest Yanukovych is playing for time," he said.
The no-confidence measure got the support of 186 members of the Verkhovna Rada, 40 shy of the majority needed. Even if it had passed, Yanukovych would have remained president, but the prime minister and Cabinet would have been ejected.
In turn, Vitali Klitschko, the superheavyweight world boxing champion and leader of the opposition party Udar, vowed that the action would continue.
"We will peacefully blockade the government building and not allow them to work," he told demonstrators at Independence Square after the no-confidence motion failed.
Oleg Tyahnybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, accused Russia, which wants to turn Ukraine toward its orbit and away from the EU, of having "an interest in a situation where more and more blood flows in Ukraine. The president should accept our conditions for preventing this scenario — he should resign and call elections for all branches of power."
Azarov, like Yanukovych, has said Ukraine wants further integration with the EU, but can't now bear the burden of the trade losses with Russia it would presumably suffer. Ukraine is also deeply dependent on natural gas from Russia, which previously has sharply raised prices for its neighbor.
Russia opposes closer Ukraine-EU relations, hoping to draw Ukraine into a trading bloc of several former Soviet republics. But Karatnycky said the size and vehemence of the protests effective derails Russia's desire, saying joining the bloc "would trigger a further escalation."
Lawmakers in Poland, a country at the forefront of EU attempts to bring Ukraine into the 28-nation bloc's fold, adopted a resolution calling for dialogue between Ukraine's opposition and the government. It also condemned the use of force during protests and expressed solidarity with pro-European Ukrainians.
Associated Press writers Jim Heintz and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.