• Ukraine opposition presses for more concessions


    KIEV: Ukraine’s opposition on Wednesday pressed for more concessions from President Viktor Yanukovych to resolve  a deadly political crisis, including an amnesty for jailed activists, after securing the resignation of the prime minister and his entire government.

    European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was expected to hold talks on the crisis in Kiev, shadowed by a warning to the West by Russian President Vladimir Putin not to meddle in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

    The United States (US) was also keeping a close watch on the situation, with Vice
    President Joe Biden speaking to Yanukovych in a telephone call and President Barack Obama backing protesters in his State of the Union address.

    A day after scrapping anti-protest laws passed January 16 that had ignited the current spike in tensions, Ukraine’s parliament was due to meet in a new extraordinary session starting at 9 a.m. local time to debate an amnesty for jailed activists.

    Deputies had been unable to vote on the amnesty a day earlier after negotiations became bogged down over the authorities’ insistence that protesters should vacate seized buildings and streets in Kiev before anyone was released.

    Dozens of activists have been arrested since clashes broke out January 19 that resulted in the fatal shooting of three protesters.

    The security forces have insisted they were not to blame for the killings, a claim met with incredulity by activists.

    The scrapping of the anti-protest laws came on a dramatic day which also saw the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, a Yanukovych loyalist, and his entire cabinet in an effort to ease the crisis.

    First Deputy Prime Minister Sergiy Arbuzov, who is also close to Yanukovych, will take over as premier in a caretaker role until a replacement is named. Some analysts floated the idea that a pro-opposition tycoon, Petro Poroshenko, might step into the post full time.

    The concessions were the biggest steps back made by the authorities to placate protesters who have occupied streets and official buildings in the center of Kiev for over two months but the opposition made clear it wanted more.

    Azarov’s resignation “was an important step but too late,” opposition Fatherland party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Channel 5 television on Tuesday.

    The UDAR (Punch) party leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said: “Azarov should have resigned two months ago . . . Now the logical step would be the resignation of Viktor Yanukovych.”

    Jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who the opposition says is the victim of a political vendetta by Yanukovych, said Tuesday’s concessions were the “first real result from the fight of people who took to the streets.”

    But she added: “It is not enough. Do not stop!”

    Ukrainian media also quoted ruling Regions Party MPs as saying that changes to the constitution to return to the version set out in 2004 which give the presidency fewer powers may also be debated.

    Meanwhile, Kravchuk told parliament Ukraine is on the brink of “civil war” as a result of the standoff between authorities and protesters across the country

    “All the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the verge of civil war,” Kravchuk, Ukraine’s president from 1991-1994, told parliament in an emotional address.

    “There are parallel authorities in the country and there is a de-facto uprising,” said Kravchuk, referring to anti-government protesters who had ousted Kiev authorities and taken control of regional administrations in several parts of the country.



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