Ukraine’s opposition rejects president’s offer of concessions as crisis deepens
Yanukovich under mounting pressure as protesters seize State buildings
Protesters stand on a barricade during an anti-government protest in Kiev yesterday. The United States said yesterday it was working with European nations to help resolve the deepening crisis in Ukraine, as neighbouring Poland warned that the country of 46 million people could “fall apart”. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA
Barricades burned again in Kiev last night after Ukraine’s opposition rejected concessions from President Viktor Yanukovich, saying only his resignation would satisfy protesters who have taken over government buildings in the capital and other cities.
The United States said yesterday it was working with European nations to help resolve the deepening crisis in Ukraine, as neighbouring Poland warned that the country of 46 million people could “fall apart”.
In his most substantial offer to the opposition during two months of demonstrations, Mr Yanukovich said next week he would reshuffle the government, row back on sweeping new laws, and give an amnesty to protesters arrested for minor offences.
At the same time, he condemned “radicals” for provoking clashes with riot police that killed up to five people this week, and vowed to use whatever legal means necessary to stop violent protests if no agreement was reached.
“We will continue dialogue with opposition leaders,” Mr Yanukovich said. “I will do everything I can to stop this conflict, this violence. If we achieve that in a good way, we will stop it in a good way. But if we don’t achieve it, I will bring all legal methods to bear.”
Emboldened by protesters’ seizure of the agriculture ministry in Kiev and local administration buildings in six cities in western Ukraine, opposition leaders flatly rejected Mr Yanukovich’s proposed moves as a possible solution to the impasse.
“Two weeks ago it would have been possible to satisfy people with the resignation of the government,” said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko. “Today, people are demanding the resignation of the president.”
After a two-day lull, protesters last night again hurled petrol bombs and fireworks at riot police, who responded with plastic bullets and stun grenades. It was not clear which side broke the uneasy “truce”.
Many protesters say talks are useless and accuse Mr Yanukovich of playing for time while planning to crush them.
They noted that yesterday he named as head of his administration the national security council chief Andriy Klyuyev, a “hawk” whom they blame for previous crackdowns.
The president also named close adviser Andriy Portnov as deputy to Mr Klyuyev, in a move that may suggest the embattled leader’s circle of trusted allies is shrinking.
‘Grave breaches of law’
Mr Yanukovich told radical protesters to stop “destroying everything, destroying Ukraine” and defended riot police whom activists accuse of killing protesters. Officials deny that police shot protesters and blame unspecified “provocateurs”.
After thousands of people stormed government buildings in the pro-opposition regions of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Rivne, Khmelnytsky and Chernivtsi, all in western Ukraine, nearby Poland appealed for urgent EU action.
“The most important thing is to co-operate with both the opposition and Ukrainian authorities in order to prevent the black scenario that is really possible: Ukraine falling apart,” said Polish prime minister Donald Tusk.
The protests began in November when Mr Yanukovich rejected a deal to bring Ukraine closer to the EU, in favour of repairing ties with and taking financial aid from Russia.
While pro-opposition western Ukraine favours the EU, eastern and southern regions where Mr Yanukovich is more popular are closely linked with Russia.
“I don’t know whether there are significant powers that are interested in Ukraine falling apart,” Mr Tusk said. “Some activities in Moscow and Kiev could indicate that someone there is pulling strings.”
US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday the US was working with EU states to press Ukraine to “forego violence [and] address the concerns of peaceful protesters.”
Pat Cox, a European Parliament envoy to Ukraine, urged Mr Yanukovich to rescind a new law banning most protest activity, to engage in dialogue, release imprisoned protesters and investigate this week’s killings.
“My message is: step back,” he said in Davos. “If we have serenity to bring to account those who are accountable, I think this can turn in a positive direction.”