20 Jan 2014

Ukraine clashes: Yanukovych urges dialogue with opposition

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych calls for “compromise and dialogue” with the opposition after violent clashes between protesters and riot police continue in Kiev.

Defiant protesters remained on the streets of Kiev on Monday after violent clashes with police left dozens of officers and demonstrators injured.

Opposition leaders have been urging the EU and the United States to impose sanctions on top Ukrainian officials and Yanukovych’s financial backers, but so far Western diplomats have only threatened sanctions and issued harsh statements.

Hundreds of activists rallied outside the EU’s office, chanting “We need your help!” in English and holding posters that read “No sanctions, no peace.”

President Yanukovych, facing unrest which seriously threatens his re-election chances in 2015, on Monday agreed to open a dialogue with the opposition after scores were injured in clashes on Sunday, the worst in two months of protests over his policy U-turn away from Europe towards Russia.

Peace talks

On Monday morning he named a top aide to organise peace talks with the opposition.

He said in a televised address to the nation: “I’m calling for a dialogue, for a compromise, for calm in our beloved country. I believe in the Ukrainian people. I’m confident about wisdom of our people.

“And I’m ready to serve people and the country with good faith until my last breath as long as people trust me”.

He added: I’m addressing residents of the city of Kiev, as well as other participants of mass rallies. I’m asking you not to follow those who are calling for violence, who wants to provoke a rift between the state and the society and wants to throw the Ukrainian people into the fire of mass unrest.”

“I’m convinced that you will hear me and will support me in my attempts to stop confrontation that was provoked by those who want to fight for power using human blood.”

On Sunday, anti-government protests in Ukraine’s capital escalated into street battles with police as thousands of demonstrators hurled rocks and firebombs to set police vehicles ablaze.

A large demonstration against harsh anti-protest laws, signed off by President Yanukovych last week, turned violent, after hundreds of protesters broke off from the main peaceful rally on Independence Square and marched toward the parliament building.

Protest ban

The ban, decided on 6 January but only issued last week, runs from 8 January to 8 March and defines a mass protest as “an event using loudspeakers…. posters, putting up of tents, stages or curtains”.

Mr Yanukovych said he had agreed to negotiate following a meeting with opposition leader Vitali Klitschko late on Sunday.

The president said on his website that he has tasked a working group, led by the national security council head Andriy Klyuev, to meet opposition representatives to work out a solution to the crisis. Opposition leaders confirmed this.

Throughout the two-month long crisis, the opposition has insisted on the government’s resignation and called for early presidential elections.

The crisis erupted in November after Mr Yanukovych’s decision to shelve a long-discussed economic and political treaty with the European Union.

European Union foreign ministers also met in Brussels on Monday for roundtable talks. They were expected to discuss, among other things, the situation in both Ukraine and the Central African Republic, as well as the upcoming Syria peace talks in Switzerland and Iran’s nuclear programme.

‘National revolution’

On Sunday explosions from stun grenades echoed in the freezing air and several police vehicles torched by protesters overnight continued to burn. Dozens of protesters remain camped out on a central street in Kiev on Monday.

“We have not slept even for five minutes, but now we do not know what to do. Opposition also does not know what to do and we do not know what to do. But we will defend ourselves,” said one protester.

Kiev resident, Mykola Kukhanovsky said he liked that clashes that erupted on Sunday and believed the current government will soon be forced out.

“I think the real national revolution for independence has started and will topple this occupational regime by force,” he said.

The mirror protest is one of the latest tactics at Independence Square – known as EuroMaidan – where Ukrainian demonstrators have arricaded themselves since November.

The viral images show demonstrators holding up mirrors in front of riot police in Kiev. Protesters say they are holding up the mirrors to force police to look themselves in the eye and reflect upon their actions.

However, the mirrors appear to have been abandonedin the latest wave of protests as demostators clashed with police on Sunday.