Ukraine may face snap election over language law crisis
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT Viktor Yanukovich has threatened to call snap elections after his allies sparked a political crisis by rushing through a new law boosting the status of the Russian language.
More than 1,000 protesters clashed with police in central Kiev yesterday, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and one of his deputies announced their resignations, and seven politicians went on hunger strike over the law, which was passed on Tuesday evening.
The vote took place amid chaotic scenes in parliament after an unexpected proposal by a pro-Yanukovich deputy. The speed of events prevented opposition parties debating the legislation or gathering all their deputies in the chamber for the vote.
“I was cheated, Ukraine was cheated, the people were cheated,” Mr Lytvyn said.
He was not present for the vote, and accused a deputy who presided over Tuesday’s session of betrayal.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters yesterday morning, and a Kiev court later announced a ban lasting several days on public gatherings in the city centre.
“There are all signs of a real political crisis in Ukraine and it will develop further,” said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The new law raises the status of Russian to allow it to be used instead of Ukrainian in schools, public offices and courts in 11 regions where it is spoken widely.
Across large swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine – where Mr Yanukovich hails from and draws most of his support – most people prefer to speak Russian over Ukrainian and seek closer ties with Moscow rather than the European Union and United States.
In western Ukraine, however, most people want to join the EU and view Russia with suspicion, recalling how the use of Ukrainian was banned in schools during Tsarist times and discouraged during the Soviet era.
“This is not a language issue; this is a splitting of the country,” said Vitali Klitschko, heavyweight boxing champion and opposition politician who left yesterday’s protests suffering from the effects of tear gas and with one arm bloodied after being allegedly hit by a bottle.
As the clashes compounded the sense of political crisis yesterday, Mr Yanukovich postponed a planned press conference to hail the success of the Euro 2012 football championship, which Ukraine co-hosted with Poland.
Instead, he met party leaders and said he might call a snap general election rather than wait for a planned ballot in October if the situation in parliament deteriorated further.
“But I think we have to exhaust all possibilities before we start this process,” he added.
The EU and US have lambasted Mr Yanukovich for allowing his main rival, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, to be jailed along with several allies in cases they say are politically motivated.
The European Court of Human Rights this week ordered Ukraine to pay damages over the detention of Yuri Lutsenko, a former interior minister under Ms Tymoshenko.