Tensions rise in Ukraine


Hundreds of supporters of President Viktor Yanukovich threw a cordon around the Ukrainian parliament today as opposition politicians and demonstrators angrily accused the leadership of selling out the country to Russia.

The ex-Soviet republic is hosting a visit by Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev on May 17th and 18th, and tension is high after riots in parliament on April 27th over ratification of an agreement by Mr Yanukovich extending the Russian navy's stay in Ukraine.

Several hundred members of the pro-Yanukovich Regions Party today formed a barrier to the entrance to the parliament building, while police kept back about 3,000 supporters of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from drawing near.

Ms Tymoshenko, who has seized on the Black Sea fleet issue to re-invigorate the opposition, declared to supporters: "Everything that has happened over Crimea and the Black Sea fleet . . . was directed at belittling our independence."

"The revision of our borders, the creation of Russia's influence in Crimea - everything will be cancelled when we have returned a patriotic team to power," she said.

There were no violent scenes inside parliament as there were on April 27th when smoke bombs were thrown and pro-Yanukovich and opposition deputies brawled before the fleet agreement was ratified.

But Ivan Kirilenko, leader of the pro-Tymoshenko BYuT faction, warned the Yanukovich leadership was preparing to sign agreements next week with Mr Medvedev on vital issues without any public debate or consultation.

"Society and the public should know what is going on and in what conditions various issues are being decided, either aviation construction, ship-building or energy, " he told parliament.

The opposition says the trade-off in Kharkiv on April 21st between Mr Yanukovich and Mr Medvedev for for the Russian fleet to stay in the Crimean port of Sevastopol until 2042 in exchange for cheaper gas was worked out without any broad consultation.