Ukraine Power-Share Offer Fails as Opposition Holds Firm
An offer from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to include opposition politicians in the government failed to defuse nine weeks of unrest as leaders of a spreading protest movement refused to compromise.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok yesterday urged demonstrators to keep pushing for Yanukovych’s resignation and snap elections after the president offered to hand over top cabinet jobs. The opposition canceled a mass rally in the capital, Kiev, today to mourn activists who died last week amid clashes with police.
The country of 45 million, a key route for Russian energy toward Europe, is going through the first deadly political crisis in its 22 years of independence. Yanukovych, struggling to tame demonstrations that turned deadly this week as anti-protest laws triggered riots, yesterday offered his biggest concessions yet. Clashes in Kiev resumed before midnight, while attempts to seize regional government offices widened.
“Protesters feel emboldened with the recent concessions by the president and sense his power is nearing the end,” Lilit Gevorgyan, senior economist at IHS Global Insight, said today by e-mail from London. “The current ruling political and business elite may eventually leave Yanukovych as he’s become a tainted figure, making his re-election difficult.”
Yanukovych said he was ready to fire his loyalists and give the premiership to Yatsenyuk and a deputy prime minister position to Klitschko. While Yatsenyuk said the opposition is ready to form a government that would free jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko and guide the country toward better ties with western Europe, he fell short of endorsing Yanukovych’s offer.
“I don’t think there can be any offers before Yanukovych is ready to resign,” Irina, 47, a teacher from Kiev, said yesterday at a demonstration, declining to give her last for fear of reprisal. “I can’t imagine anything else. I can’t imagine any kind of bargaining.”
Rinat Akhmetov, an ally of the president and Ukraine’s richest person with a $12.3 billion fortune according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, urged a peaceful resolution yesterday in a statement, saying any force is unacceptable. Billionaire former Economy Minister Petro Poroshenko endorsed further protests last night from the Independence Square stage.
An extraordinary parliament session called for Jan. 28 to hear a no-confidence motion in the government will be crucial in deciding the fate of the country, Yatsenyuk said yesterday. Klitschko and Tyahnybok urged activists to continue protests until all their demands are met.
The two sides will start talks on changing the constitution and repealing anti-protest laws that ignited violence last week, according to a statement from Andriy Portnov, Yanukovych’s deputy chief of staff, on the president’s website.
After both sides called for foreign mediation to help find a resolution to the crisis, opposition leaders said they met Yanukovych yesterday to stop him from initiating a state of emergency. Officials including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov have denied such plans in recent days.
Riots flared up again on the night of Jan. 24, prompting Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko to say that peaceful efforts to end the unrest were useless. Protesters, throwing Molotov cocktails and shooting fireworks, seized an exhibition hall last night, allowing about 200 Interior Ministry troops stationed there to leave at 4 a.m., TV5 said.
Seeking shelter from temperatures of as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), activists have seized the buildings of the Agriculture Ministry and the Energy Ministry in the last two days.
Outside Kiev, the unrest has spread. 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. Activists were storming administrative headquarters in Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson today.
The protests escalated last week as the first deaths were registered. Police are investigating the Jan. 22 discovery of two bodies with gunshot wounds, while 116 people have been detained on suspicion of participation in riots.
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.
EU officials, who’ve said they may reassess their relations with Ukraine after the violence, are seeking to broker a peace deal in Kiev. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule met Yanukovych and the opposition Jan. 24, while Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, is due in Kiev Jan. 30-31.
For the time being, the opposition isn’t backing down.
“We will not backtrack!” Klitschko said yesterday. “We are keeping our positions. There are no extremists here. We are peaceful people, who are fighting for their rights and demands. We are not listening to any provocations.”
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