Ukraine’s parliament set for crisis meeting as Tymoshenko rejects compromise

Opposition divided over tactics after third ministry seized

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich (centre left) speaks with opposition leaders (from back right) Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyagnybok yesterday. Photograph: EPA

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich (centre left) speaks with opposition leaders (from back right) Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyagnybok yesterday. Photograph: EPA

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 01:00

Ukraine’s parliament is due to hold an emergency session today to seek a solution to the country’s crisis, amid growing signs of tension and division in the protest movement.

Leaders of the three main opposition parties met President Viktor Yanukovich for another round of talks last night, as anti-government rallies and occasional fighting continued across a nation in which protesters now control governors’ buildings in at least 10 of 25 regions.

As negotiations resumed in the presidential administration, however, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko urged opposition chiefs “categorically to not accept the authorities’ demeaning conditions and proposals”.

“The people of Ukraine have gone on to their squares not to get jobs for leaders or even for the annulment of dictatorial laws. They want to fundamentally change their lives, establish justice in Ukraine and a path to European values. They will not get another chance to do it,” she said.

“Politicians still do not understand that people are ready to achieve their aim even if it costs them their life, health and physical liberty. I understand their aspirations and fully support them. The crisis can only be solved by the complete fulfilment of the people’s demands by all politicians.”


Influential figure
Ms Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2011 for abuse of power, in a case denounced by the European Union and United States as politically motivated. She remains a very popular and influential opposition figure.

She urged Ukrainians “to go forward, do not stop or reduce the power of your punch against the authorities. If you stop for even a minute, the country . . . could become hostage to tyranny for many years”.

Mr Yanukovich has offered some concessions to protesters, including the posts of prime minister and deputy premier to two opposition leaders if they call demonstrators off the streets.

However, many of those now rallying across Ukraine will only be satisfied with the resignation of Mr Yanukovich and snap elections for president and parliament. The government says party chiefs are unable to control violent radicals.

Last night, interior minister Vitali Zakharchenko told the US ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, that officials did not know who to negotiate with among the protesters.

“There are even radicals there, and no one anywhere in the world holds talks with extremists,” Mr Zakharchenko said.


State of emergency
Activists yesterday seized the justice ministry building in Kiev, having already established control of the agriculture and energy ministries.

Last night, they moved out the justice ministry but maintained a blockade outside, after minister Olena Lukash warned that she might request the imposition of a state of emergency and the abandonment of crisis talks.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, leader of the activists who took all three ministries, was denounced by a leading figure on Independence Square, the heart of protests that last week flared into violence claiming up to six lives and injuring hundreds.

“We distance ourselves from the seizure of strategic buildings,” said Stepan Kubiv, an opposition deputy and “commander” of a trade union building occupied by protesters. “Today you cannot do that. Today we should have the most balanced judgment, balanced action, to prevent any bloodshed or provocations,” he said.


Government ‘provocateur’
Mr Kubiv also suggested that Mr Danylyuk – one of many activists who reject mainstream parties – could be a government “provocateur” tasked with besmirching the opposition.

Secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon yesterday expressed “grave concern” over Ukraine’s crisis and urged Mr Yanukovich to enter “constructive dialogue” with his critics.

The issue is expected to feature heavily at a summit between the EU and Russia today, after which the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to fly to Kiev. Ms Ashton said she was “alarmed” by the possible imposition of a state of emergency.

“This bandit regime want to silence us all but we won’t keep quiet any more,” said mechanic Roman Romanov (30), manning a barricade outside the justice ministry.

“Yanukovich wants to take us back to Russia, but we want to live by European standards,” he continued. “Why should Ukraine be a Zhiguli,” he said, using the Russian name for a Lada car, “when we could be a Mercedes?”