Ukraine in turmoil as president clings to power
Ukraine's embattled government held onto power in parliament yesterday but faced determined public protests and the rising risk of a financial crisis after spurning closer ties with the European Union under pressure from Russia.
With protesters blockading central Kiev, President Viktor Yanukovych flew to China on a three-day state visit seeking loans and investment.
He left a country in turmoil, torn once more between East and West in what his opponents hope will become a rerun of the 2004-5 'Orange Revolution' that led to the overthrow of Ukraine's post-Soviet order.
Lawmakers rejected an opposition demand for a vote of no-confidence in the government of prime minister Mykola Azarov, while outside the chamber riot police faced off in freezing conditions against several thousand pro-EU protesters.
The vast majority of pro-government deputies, however, either cast votes abstaining or did not vote at all, a warning to Mr Azarov of discontent in his ranks.
At least two members of Mr Yanukovych's Regions Party have defected.
The government's November 21 decision to reject a deal on closer trade ties and integration with the EU has laid bare once more a split in a world view between Ukraine's Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West.
Protesters see the rejection of the EU trade deal as a fundamental shift in the future outlook of their country, away from the European mainstream and back into the orbit of their former Soviet masters in Moscow.
About 350,000 people took to the streets and squares of Kiev on Sunday in the biggest show of popular anger since the Orange Revolution, when huge demonstrations forced the annulment of a fraudulent presidential election won by Mr Yanukovych.
Striking a conciliatory tone, Mr Azarov apologised for the use of police force against protesters over the weekend and pleaded with opposition leaders not to repeat the revolution.
"We reach out our hand to you; push away the intriguers, the intriguers seeking power and who are trying to repeat the scenario of 2004," he told parliament.
Confrontation on the streets adds to a risk of financial turmoil.
Ukraine faces gas bills and debt repayments next year of more than $17bn. The cost of insuring its debt against default hit its highest since January 2010.