Friday 28 November 2014

Ukraine president clings to power

Government sacked, hated laws repealed, but Yanukovych refuses to resign

David Blair in Kiev

Published 29/01/2014 | 02:30

A general view shows an anti-government protesters' camp
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov who resigned yesterday

Ukraine's president dismissed the entire government and abandoned nine hated security laws yesterday conceding everything to Kiev's demonstrators except his own resignation.

As he struggled to end the occupation of his capital by tens of thousands of protesters, President Viktor Yanukovych gave into a series of their demands, sacrificing his prime minister and every member of the cabinet.

An emergency session of the country's parliament tried to appease the marchers by repealing nine draconian security laws by 361 votes to two. It was the passage of these measures, banning almost all forms of public protest, which had galvanised the protests against Mr Yanukovych.

Yet only 12 days after approving the laws, MPs scrapped them without debate. All were abandoned during a single vote that took less than a minute.

"Everything the opposition wanted is in this package," said Volodymyr Rybak, the speaker. As recently as Friday, the president had promised only to "amend" and "review" the laws.

A few streets away, calm descended on the barricades around Independence Square as parliament bowed to the protesters. The main rampart on Grushevskogo Street, previously the scene of round-the-clock confrontations between masked demonstrators and serried ranks of police, was unusually quiet. The taunts died away, a police water cannon stood unused and both sides appeared to respect an undeclared truce.

After the parliamentary vote, Mr Yanukovych proceeded to jettison his allies. Mykola Azarov announced his resignation as prime minister "for the sake of the peaceful settlement of the conflict".

Mr Yanukovych then stated that every other minister had been dismissed. "The president has accepted the resignation of the government as well," said an official statement.

It was unclear whether the concessions would satisfy the protesters – or whether nothing less than Mr Yanukovych's own resignation will now end the unrest.

World boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, head of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party, said the mass resignation was "not victory but a step to victory".

Behind the snow-clad barricades in Independence Square there was no mood of jubilation over the president's retreat. Instead, people promised to stay until he resigned.

"Of course we must continue until the very end," said Dina Sokolova, a 60-year-old demonstrator. "I'm an old woman, but I'm here at the protest until Yanukovych goes."

She added: "I asked my daughter 'Why don't you have another child?' She said to me: 'It's impossible to have a second child because I'm afraid for the future of the children of Ukraine.' This is shameful for our people and our country."

Mrs Sokolova carried a banner reading "Ukraine is ruled by bandits and ex-prisoners", an allusion to the fact that Mr Yanukovych served time in jail for theft and assault in his youth.

The demonstrations began on December 1, after the president spurned an agreement for closer integration with the EU in favour of accepting a $15 billion loan from Russia.

President Vladimir Putin made clear that Russia would continue to disburse this money regardless of who is in power in Ukraine, adding that the EU should stay out of the nation's affairs. "I think that the more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are. At the very least, Russia will never interfere," he said after attending an EU summit in Brussels.

Posters of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was jailed in 2011 on trumped-up corruption charges, adorn the stage in Independence Square. Her 33-year-old daughter, Eugenia, told reporters that the president's moves were "not enough for people who want real systemic change". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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