Ukraine opposition vows to maintain protests, PM calls to end violence

Ukraine opposition vows to maintain protests, PM calls to end violence
Ukrainian opposition MPs are blocking the parliament demanding the government’s resignation. Meanwhile Prime Minister Azarov has called on his opponents and thousands of street protesters to de-escalate the tension and negotiate.

“The government is ready for dialogue, I am prepared to take part in it myself,” Nikolay Azarov said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

He said Ukrainian politicians and public figures need to work to scale down the ongoing political crisis, which was sparked by the government’s failure to sign a trade agreement with the EU. In particular Azarov called to keep in line the mass protests in Kiev, which sparked into violence in the past days.

“The call from the West to Ukraine to avoid violence is directed not only at the authorities, but also at the protesters,” he said, adding that his government will ensure people’s right to peaceful protest.

RIA Novosti / Iliya Pitalev

Meanwhile the conflict is waged not only in the streets, but in the national parliament as well. After MPs voted on Tuesday against a no confidence bill, which would dismiss Azarov’s government, opposition factions are blocking the work of the legislature.

“Our key demands to the parliament are the dismissal of the government and an end to political repressions, the liberation of Yulia Tymoshenko,” Arseny Yatsenyuk, leader of the Batkovshchina parliamentary party said on Wednesday.

In addition to the former prime minister and top rival of Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovich, the opposition wants to free the nine protesters, who had been arrested on Tuesday by a Kiev court.

The activists face terms of up to eight years for organizing the rioting on Sunday, when protesting crowds clashed with police and stormed several administrative buildings in Kiev, including the mayor’s office, a unions headquarters and a large cultural center. Throughout the city 190 protesters and 140 security troops were injured in the scuffles.

People shout slogans in front of the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers building during a rally to support EU integration in Kiev December 4, 2013.(Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

Sunday’s violence came a day after a brutal dispersal of protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square. The mistreatment of the demonstrators by the police was criticized by both the president and the prime minister. The head of Kiev police has since been asked for his resignation.

The government, emboldened by its Tuesday victory in the parliament, resists the opposition demands.

“Everyone guilty of violations of laws will be held accountable. But this will be decided in a calm environment,” Azarov said.

But the government is not planning at the moment to use force to retake control of the government buildings from the protesters.

“I believe we will soon find a certain compromise solution to the issue. It’s in the first place a conflict-sparking issue, the illegal seizure of the building,” said Aleksandr Popov, the head of the mayor’s office.

He added that his office was functioning well in backup premises at municipal administration buildings and is in control of the situation in Kiev, ensuring that the public transit system and public services are working.

Protests shout slogans as they block the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev on December 4, 2013.(AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

As the confrontation continues, Ukraine is sending governmental delegations to both Moscow and Brussels to discuss economic ties.

President Yanukovich decided two weeks ago not to sign the association agreement with the EU because the move would hurt the country’s economy. The damage would be caused by both a costly modernization of the national industry the agreement would require and the loss of the Russian market for Ukrainian goods.

Kiev requested that the EU offer considerable economic aid to compensate for Ukraine’s losses, but Brussels insists it will not give Ukraine any special treatment or review the terms of the agreement.