Cri­sis talks as protest brews in Ukraine

Leader stands firm on drop­ping EU for Rus­sia

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

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-

on

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

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

DE­FI­ANT: A pro-Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion pro­tester cov­ers his face with a scarf dur­ing a rally at In­de­pen­dence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, yes­ter­day.

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