EU Calls for Calm in Ukraine

As tensions mount between the pro-West President and the Prime Minister, the German EU presidency hopes the bloc's relations with Ukraine will not be harmed

The German EU presidency has called for "moderation" and "responsibility" in Ukraine, as the latest political crisis in Kiev threatens to destabilise one of the EU's largest neighbours in the east.

"The presidency...calls on those with political responsibility in Ukraine to settle their current differences on domestic policy in a manner which complies with the constitution and democratic rules," Berlin's Tuesday (3 April) statement said.

"The presidency...hopes...that relations between the European Union and Ukraine will not be adversely affected," it adds, after Brussels and Kiev last month launched talks on a new "enhanced agreement" on trade.

The remarks come as thousands of supporters of political rivals president Viktor Yushchenko and prime minister Viktor Yanukovych continue to mass outside the Ukrainian parliament - the Verkhovna Rada - in Kiev.

The protests come after pro-EU and pro-NATO president Yushchenko on Monday signed a decree to disband parliament and call new parliamentary elections in May, after accusing Mr Yanukovych of bribing MPs to defect to his camp. Mr Yushchenko's push has been backed by popular former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

But parliament has refused to disband for now, as the country awaits a verdict from its constitutional court to say if the presidential decree is valid or not. The verdict could come "in one hour or five days" a Ukrainian diplomat said.

Meanwhile, tension is mounting, with police special forces in bullet-proof vests deployed around the city centre and with defence minister Anatoly Grytsenko publicly saying the army will remain loyal to the president.

"Deliberate efforts are being made in parliament to worsen the political crisis, posing a threat to our country and people," Mr Yushchenko said on Tuesday, the BBC reports.

"There is still a chance to avoid the worst," the more Russia-friendly Mr Yanukovych said, warning that he will call snap presidential elections if the parliamentary election plan goes ahead. The prime minister's political allies described the presidential decree as "a step towards a coup d'etat."

'Looks like Moscow in 1993'

"The situation, with parliamentarians sitting in parliament and saying they are not disbanded is analogous to the situation in Moscow in 1993, which ended in the shelling of the Russian White House," EU think-tank CEPS analyst, Michael Emerson said.

"Nobody knows what will happen. But my guess is it won't be violent, so the Russian analogy is interesting but is not a model. My guess is there will be early elections," he explained, adding that it is "common knowledge" in Kiev that Mr Yanukovych's side has bribed pro-Yushchenko MPs.

The crisis is the latest in a long line following the November 2004 Orange Revolution that has in the past two years seen whole governments sacked, foreign ministers shut out of cabinet meetings and Mr Yushchenko's own family caught up in a corruption scandal.

But it is bigger in scale, with the element of massed crowds and tent camps in city squares reminiscent of the 2004 upheaval, when 250,000 people protested peacefully against the rigging of presidential election results.

Ukrainians fed up

Most ordinary Ukrainians are fed up with the scandals, corruption and harsh living conditions in the country. But no matter how the present turmoil ends, it is likely to delay Ukraine's pro-EU market economy reforms and the signing of the new EU-Ukraine "enhanced agreement."

"The EU has some tools to influence the situation, making the internal development easier," a Ukrainian diplomat said, putting some responsibility for the crisis on Brussels' shoulders for not giving post-revolutionary Kiev the clear-cut EU membership perspective that Mr Yushchenko craves.

"We don't see any signals on this from the EU side and it is a problem," he added.

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