Ukraine opposition seeks foreign mediation
Ukraine’s opposition has called for international mediation after talks with President Viktor Yanukovych were inconclusive and mass protests spread across the country.
Former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, leader of the Udar (Punch) party, said the crisis could only be solved with the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“Yanukovych decided to declare war on his own people rather than stop the confrontation… He must be stopped,” Klitschko said.
US diplomats were working with Yanukovych on Friday in Ukraine to pressure him to forgo violence, address protesters’ concerns and promote democratic freedoms, US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the World Economic Forum.
“We will stand with the people of Ukraine,” Kerry said in Davos, Switzerland.
Earlier on Friday, EU Commissar Stefan Fule held talks in Kiev with Yanukovych and his new chief of staff, Andriy Klyuyev in Kiev, the presidential administration said.
Yanukovych on Friday promised a government reshuffle, an amnesty for detained protesters and amendments to the restrictive laws whose passing last week triggered fresh protests, in which at least three people have been killed.
The laws, which were signed by Yanukovych, have been widely criticised as stifling dissent because they restrict free speech and establish new penalties for unlawful protests. Opposition leaders have demanded full repeal of the measures.
Parliament will adopt the decisions at a special session Tuesday, Yanukovych told a meeting of religious leaders, news reports said.
“I will do everything to end this conflict,” he was quoted as saying.
Yanukovych said he had discussed the steps Thursday with opposition leaders.
His earlier decision to appoint Klyuyev to chief of staff, seen as the most influential post after the head of state, was met with dismay by opposition activists, who have blamed the former security council secretary for past crackdowns against demonstrators.
The president fired Serhiy Lyovochkin, regarded as relatively liberal, from the post on January 17.
Washington issued a travel alert late Friday for Ukraine, citing escalating violence and warning US citizens to stay away from protests.
“US citizens are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations, and large gatherings,” the State Department said.
“US citizens whose residences or hotels are located in the vicinity of the protests are cautioned to leave those areas or prepare to remain indoors, possibly for several days, should clashes occur.” The State Department noted the situation was “unpredictable and could change quickly” with more violent clashes between police and demonstrators possible. The US embassy remained open for business.
The protests spread this week to northern and western Ukraine, reflecting the split between Russian and Ukrainian speakers among the country’s 45 million inhabitants.
On Friday, protesters were occupying at least five regional administration buildings, which they stormed Thursday. In the western city of Lviv, an opposition stronghold, protesters erected huge barricades and prevented administration workers from going to work.
In Cherkasy, south of Kiev, police ended the local administration’s occupation and arrested more than 50 protesters.
On Kiev’s Independence Square, protesters reinforced barricades and widened their territory to include a busy underground station and the country’s Agriculture Ministry.
Ministry work came to a halt as protesters blocked staff from accessing the building, news reports said. Activists said the protesters occupied the building in order to warm up amid the freezing temperatures.
The protesters have continuously occupied the square since late November – in response to the government’s decision not to sign a wide-ranging association deal with the EU and to seek closer trade relations with Russia.
Their demands and actions radicalised considerably when right-wing extremists battled riot police with Molotov cocktails and cobblestones this week.