Ukrainian Ministry Freed on State of Emergency Threat

Protesters Stand on a Barricade in Kiev
Anti-government protesters face riot police while standing on a barricade in Kiev. Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine’s justice minister said she may push for a state of emergency after activists took over her offices in the capital, where anti-government protests are into a third month. They later left the building.

After seizing the Justice Ministry in Kiev at about midnight, demonstrators who’ve already occupied the agriculture and energy ministries relinquished control of the building in the afternoon. A state of emergency would expand the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych, whose weekend offer to share power with the opposition failed to end unrest that’s fanning out across much of the eastern European nation.

Imposing a state of emergency “would be very detrimental for the authorities as it would lead to further escalation, further destabilization and fiercer confrontation,” Yuriy Yakymenko, head of the political department at the Razumkov Center for Economical and Political Studies in Kiev, said by phone. “It would be a more painful means of resolution.”

The country of 45 million, a key route for Russian energy toward Europe, is enduring the first deadly political crisis in its 22 years of independence. After struggling to tame demonstrations that claimed their first lives last week as anti-protest laws triggered riots, Yanukovych offered his biggest concessions yet on Jan. 25. Clashes in Kiev resumed that night, while attempts to seize regional government offices widened.

Hryvnia Retreats

The hryvnia weakened 0.7 percent to 8.49 per dollar, the lowest since September 2009, as of 7:05 p.m. in Kiev, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield on dollar-denominated government debt due 2023 rose 8 to 9.636 percent, the highest level since Dec. 16.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash had threatened to ask the National Security and Defense Council to discuss a state of emergency if the ministry wasn’t “freed immediately,” according to comments on Inter TV. Lukash also said the incident could harm talks between the president and the opposition in which she’s participated.

The activists will maintain a blockade of the building and may expand their presence to other state offices, Oleksandr Danyluk, a protest organizer, said on his Facebook Inc. page.

Under Ukrainian law, a state of emergency would allow the president to ban rallies, cut telephone and Internet access and impose a curfew. He could also seek assistance from the armed forces. Their compensation will be doubled by July, Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev said today in a statement.

Premier’s Job

Opposition leaders met Yanukovych Jan. 25, saying they had information he was preparing to call a state of emergency. Officials including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov have denied such plans in recent days. Vitaliy Lukyanenko, a spokesman for Azarov, said today by phone that the government hasn’t discussed imposing a state of emergency.

Yanukovych said he’s ready to give the premiership and a deputy prime minister post to opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko. While Yatsenyuk said he’s ready to form a government that would free jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko and guide Ukraine toward better ties with Europe, he fell short of endorsing Yanukovych’s offer.

Lawmakers will interrupt their winter break tomorrow in a session the opposition wants to use to try to bring a no-confidence motion against the government and repeal anti-protest laws passed this month. The extraordinary session will be crucial in deciding the fate of the country, according to Yatsenyuk.

‘Downward Spiral’

The EU’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called lawmakers to revoke the laws. She urged the government to refrain from declaring a state of emergency.

“It would trigger a further downward spiral which would benefit no-one,” she said today in an e-mailed statement. “I hope that the Ukrainian parliament will set a clear path during tomorrow’s session toward a political solution.”

Ashton said she would travel tomorrow evening to Kiev, where Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule is meeting government authorities and the opposition.

Yanukovych began talks with opposition leaders this evening, according to a statement on his website. Opposition parties said earlier that they’re ready for further negotiations in a bid to prevent the crisis from escalating.

Protesters, throwing Molotov cocktails and shooting fireworks, seized an exhibition hall yesterday, allowing about 200 Interior Ministry troops stationed there to leave at 4 a.m., TV5 said.

Unrest Spreads

The unrest has spread beyond Kiev. Protesters are occupying offices of governors picked by Yanukovych in more than a third of the nation’s 25 regions, while police have expelled demonstrators from some.

The protests escalated last week as the first deaths were registered. Police have begun an investigation after three people died from gunshot wounds, while 116 people have been detained on suspicion of participation in riots. The opposition canceled a mass rally in the capital, Kiev, yesterday to mourn activists who died last week amid clashes with police.

The opposition says six people have died and a thousand people have been injured. More than 300 policemen have sought medical help, according to the Interior Ministry.

Ukraine will be on the agenda when Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to Brussels tomorrow to meet European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Barroso.

In the EU’s view, Russia is to blame for the Kiev uprising because it granted a $15 billion bailout loan on the condition that Ukraine renounce closer ties with the West, an EU official told reporters today in Brussels on condition of anonymity.

An EU delegation in Ukraine said the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated, pointing to arrests of wounded people in front of clinics and reports of torture and disappearances, according to a statement on the mission’s Facebook page today.

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