28 Jan 2014

Ukraine protests: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov tenders his resignation in an attempt to defuse tensions in Kiev – his deputy Serhiy Arbuzov takes over as acting prime minister.

Mr Azarov offered his resignation on Tuesday, saying he was stepping down because of the threat to the economy caused by two months of unrest.

President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Mr Azarov and his government, but ordered other ministers to stay on in an acting role until a new cabinet was formed.

Addressing the nation, the 66-year-old said: “Dear compatriots, today I’ve taken a very difficult for me, but a responsible decision to tender my resignation as a prime minister.

“I took that decision to give an opportunity to all political forces to reach an agreement, to reach a compromise and end the crisis we are going through.”

Anti-protest laws scrapped

Ukrainian parliament went into emergency session with ministers loyal to President Yanukovych saying they would press for a state of emergency to be declared if the opposition leaders did not rein in protesters and end occupation of municipal and government buildings across the country.

But then Mr Yanukovych loyalists – clearly under pressure from the president and his aides to make a U-turn – voted to repeal anti-protest legislation they had rammed through on 16 January.

It was these laws – banning virtually all form of public protest – which sparked a violent turn on the street leading to open clashes between radical activists and police.

“Decisions taken by the Rada (parliament) today, together with my decision, create enough space for a compromise. I’d like to address the people of our country by saying that, for me, preserving the unity and integrity of the country and insuring its successful development is the most important objective. Ambitions are secondary,” Mr Azarov said.

Opposition talks

Mr Azarov, a loyal lieutenant of Yanukovych since the latter was elected to power in February 2010, has said he was offering to step down to help end the crisis but in reality he has been publicly humiliated by Mr Yanukovych’s offer at the weekend to give his job to former economy minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader, in an effort to stem the rising protests against his rule.

The opposition has been calling consistently for the resignation of the Azarov government since the onset of the crisis.

But opposition leaders have shied away from the offer of top government posts by Mr Yanukovych, seeing it as a trap intended to compromise them in front of their supporters on the streets.

Mr Yatsenyuk, one of a “troika”, of opposition leaders, formally turned down the offer of the top government job on Monday night.

The steward of the heavily-indebted economy through hard times and recession, Mr Azarov backed the decision in November to walk away from a free trade agreement with the European Union – the move which sparked the mass street protests.

And it was Mr Azarov who took the heat in parliament, defending the need for closer economic ties with Russia in a stormy debate with the opposition.

Though the protest movement began because of Mr Yanukovych’s U-turn on policy towards Europe, it has since turned into a mass demonstration, punctuated by clashes with police, against perceived misrule and corruption under Yanukovich’s leadership.