Crisis talks as protest brews in Ukraine
Leader stands firm on dropping EU for Russia
KIEV: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich made few concessions yesterday in crisis talks with the opposition, his first direct attempt to defuse weeks of unrest over a policy swerve to Russia away from Europe.
The meeting came as protesters streamed into the capital for a mass rally tomorrow, boosting thousands already camped out on Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the “maidan”, the focal point of recent demonstrations.
Russia, in the meantime, pointedly demanded the EU keep out of Ukrainian affairs.
Yanukovich, yielding to calls from the international community, began talks with the opposition to try to find a way out of the conflict which has put Ukraine at the centre of an East-West tug-of-war.
But with the opposition insisting on core demands, such as the dismissal of his government, the talks seemed unlikely to head off another outpouring of anger against him tomorrow.
“This round-table was simply a declaration and not a single step was made to meet the opposition. I have the impression that the authorities today did not listen to a single one of the demands of the opposition,” said boxing championturned- opposition- politician Vitaly Klitschko.
Despite talks in Brussels by his government aimed at securing financial aid from the EU for his near-bankrupt country, Yanukovich still appeared on course to go to Moscow on Tuesday to tie up a trade agreement which the opposition fears could slam the door on integration with Europe.
Highlighting the high geopolitical stakes, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said yesterday Ukraine must avoid a “tectonic split”.
The appearance of EU politicians at Kiev protests was a “crude interference” in Ukraine’s affairs – a reference to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU foreign ministers who have visited protest sites in recent weeks.
The talks represented the first direct encounter any of the three opposition leaders have had with Yanukovich in months of crisis around his policy towards Europe.
This came to a head on November 21 when his government suddenly backed off a landmark trade and political agreement with the EU, after years of preparation, and announced it was reviving trade relations with former overseer Moscow instead.
Since then, the capital has been beset by sometimes harshly handled pro-Europe rallies, involving hundreds of thousands of people at the weekends, who accuse Yanukovich of turning the clock back and selling out national interests to the Kremlin.
The opposition leaders indicated they would insist Yanukovich meet their core demands, which include the dismissal of the government and early elections.
“We will pass on to him (Yanukovich) your demands. We will fight for our common victory,” Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister, told crowds Square.
The two other opposition leaders, Klitschko and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybok, stood alongside him.
In remarks to the roundtable Yanukovich sought to take a neutral stance in the con-
Independence flict which has involved police heavy- handedness against peaceful protesters.
“I am outraged by the radical acts which have taken place on the ‘maidan’, as much as from ‘provocateurs’ as from the security bodies which did not behave correctly.”
He defended his policy shift, repeating Ukraine’s economic ills could not be cured without “restoration of normal trade relations with Russia”.
In a gesture of appeasement, Yanukovich said he would propose an amnesty for those detained at recent mass street protests but he made no indication of offering up Prime Minister Mykola Azarov as demanded by the opposition.
Yatsenyuk insisted on Azarov’s dismissal and that of the interior minister, held responsible by protesters for excessive force by police. – Reuters
DEFIANT: A pro-European integration protester covers his face with a scarf during a rally at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, yesterday.