Ukraine’s president denounced opposition leaders calling for him to resign, saying they are escalating the country’s political crisis and his administration had met its obligations to protesters.
On sick leave after pushing through an amnesty law rejected by anti-government activists, President Viktor Yanukovych said today there was “no future” for the nation if the “political interests of certain groups are above the existence of Ukraine itself.” Opposition leaders said the president was trying to rid himself of culpability after a violent crackdown and clashes that has killed eight people since last week.
“All obligations that the authorities have taken upon themselves have been fulfilled,” Yanukovych said in on his website, days after his former prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned and handed the reins of his cabinet to his deputy Serhiy Arbuzov until the president names a new one. “The opposition, however, continues to escalate the situation.”
Yanukovych, 63, is facing calls to step down in protests that have spread from the capital to other cities since his rejection of a European Union association pact in November. The turmoil has prompted a tug-of-war for influence in the country of 45 million people between the European Union and Russia.
Russia said yesterday it may withhold aid until Ukraine replaces former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s cabinet, which is operating under a state-of-resignation after he resigned on Jan. 28. Yanukovych has 60 days to name a new administration.
The yield on Ukraine’s dollar-denominated government debt due in 2023 rose by 35 basis points to 9.94 percent at 4:39 p.m. in Kiev, to the highest level since Dec. 13, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The hryvnia strengthened to 8.4721 per dollar from 8.4750 yesterday.
Yanukovych went on sick leave today with an “acute respiratory condition” and high fever, his office said in a statement on its website, four hours before issuing his statement criticizing the opposition.
Yesterday, he threatened to dissolve parliament if it didn’t push through a law requiring activists to surrender seized buildings before scores of their detained comrades can go free, Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said on TV5.
Opposition leaders, who had demanded amnesty with no conditions, said the president’s tactics showed he wouldn’t compromise. The UDAR party of former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said Yanukovych was trying to remove himself from the spotlight and may avoid signing a Jan. 28 law canceling measures that have criminalized protests.
“Yanukovych’s illness does not free him of responsibility,” UDAR said on its website. “He can use the sick leave as an excuse not to sign the cancellation of the dictatorship laws, not to meet representatives of the opposition and international community, and to avoid approving urgent decisions needed to lead the situation out of crisis.”
The opposition says six protesters have died -- three from gunshot wounds -- and a thousand have been injured in protests, while authorities have detained at least 116 on suspicion of taking part. A policeman died from wounds from a clash on Jan. 27 in southern Ukraine, while a 30-year-old Interior Ministry captain died of cardiac arrest today, the ministry said.
The unrest has spread beyond the capital, where activists have taken over the agriculture and energy ministries. Protesters are occupying or blocking the offices of governors picked by Yanukovych in 12 of the nation’s 25 regions. Police expelled demonstrators from others and activists left on their own from government offices in the western city of Lviv today.
“This temporary pause benefits Yanukovych tactically,” Vladimir Zastava, an analyst at Kiev-based Gorshenin Institute, said by phone. “If a decision will be take to disperse protests using force, when the president is officially on sick leave, the formal responsibility will be on the executors.”
The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a resolution expressing support for revoking visas for several Ukrainian officials and calling for the president and Congress to consider additional sanctions against those who had authorized or engaged in the use of force.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk traveled to Brussels met European Commission President Jose Barroso to appeal for an improved aid offer to Ukraine comparable to a Russian package. Russia agreed to lend its western neighbor $15 billion and give it a one-third discount on natural gas prices after Yanukovych rejected the EU pact.
Ukraine got the first $3 billion tranche and is waiting for $2 billion more “in the nearest future,” Arbuzov told a government meeting yesterday. Yanukovych has 60 days to appoint a new government.
Ukraine needs the funds to repay more than $1 billion to the International Monetary Fund by Feb. 12, the Washington-based lender’s data show. The country had $20.4 billion in international reserves at end-December, down from as much as $38.4 billion in 2011.
In an echo of trade difficulties Ukraine and Russia faced last August, Ukraine’s exporters are again facing delays on the border after Russia introduced additional requirements, imposed fees and subjected them to more detailed inspections, Ukraine’s Employers Federation said on its website.
With temperatures reaching minus 22 degrees Celsius (minus 8 Fahrenheit) in Kiev, activists at Independence Square, known as Maidan, said they would stay until Yanukovych resigns.
“We will stay at Maidan until Yanukovych goes away and those who shot people and beat them are punished,” said Ivan, 27, an agriculture entrepreneur from Kremenchug in central Ukraine, who refused to give his full name in fear of reprisals.