Friday, January 24, 2014

Truce In Ukraine Teeters As Deal Appears To Falter

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych, under growing pressure from Western leaders, proposed to free detained protesters in return for a temporary cease-fire but amid deep uncertainty that antigovernment demonstrators would accept the tentative deal.

A protester throws stones at riot police in Kiev on Thursday as others take cover.

Protesters began erecting fresh barricades around their camp in central Kiev in the early hours of Friday after heckling opposition leaders who emerged from a four-hour meeting with the Ukrainian leader with a potential compromise aimed at halting violent clashes with police.

Demonstrators whistled as leaders spoke and voiced skepticism that Mr. Yanukovych would keep his side of the bargain.

The apparent spurning of the tentative deal by protesters mars hopes of progress toward a resolution of two-month protests that have plunged Ukraine into its biggest political crisis in almost a decade.

It also casts into doubt the temporary truce that protesters and police agreed to Thursday while opposition leaders met with Mr. Yanukovych for a second time in two days.

On Thursday, Mr. Yanukovych ordered parliament's speaker to call an emergency session in a bid to find a quick solution to antigovernment protests that turned deadly Wednesday.

The three main opposition leaders, including former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, said they had discussed with the president that the session consider the reversal of recently passed legislation cracking down on dissent.

In an interview, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that he warned Mr. Yanukovych in a telephone call Thursday of possible repercussions if his government continues to engage in violence against protesters.

He declined to specify what actions the European Union might take.

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden also urged the Ukrainian leader to defuse the standoff between protesters and government security forces, warning that "further bloodshed would have consequences for Ukraine's relationship with the United States."

In unusually strong comments earlier Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was "furious" about the worsening violence on the streets of Kiev and the government's handling of the protests, calling on Mr. Yanukovych to respect law and basic rights.

The EU's foreign policy chief will fly to Kiev next week to push for dialogue between the two sides.

Another top EU official is set to arrive in Kiev on Friday.

At a meeting in his office in Kiev, Mr. Yanukovych asked Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak to call lawmakers to an extraordinary session to discuss the protests, which began two months ago when Mr. Yanukovych walked away from an EU integration pact in favor of closer ties with Russia.

"You know that the riots that happened recently have been accompanied by violence, bloodshed and arson. The situation today needs an immediate solution," he said.

The emergency parliamentary session was set for Tuesday.

While Mr. Rybak said lawmakers could discuss some of the protesters' demands, including the dismissal of the government, opponents said it could be used as a chance to introduce a state of emergency to start a broader crackdown.

The protests, which have spiraled into a broader outcry against government corruption and police violence, turned violent in recent days amid anger at a lack of concessions from the government and new legislation cracking down on dissent.

More radical protesters have seized the initiative from the opposition leaders, whom they accused of taking a too-passive stance.

At least three protesters have died in recent days, two of them from bullet wounds.

The Interior Ministry on Thursday identified the men who were shot to death as 20-year-old Serhiy Nigoyan and Mykhailo Zhyznevskiy, a 25-year-old Belarusian citizen.

Officials said that authorities aren't responsible for the deaths and that the cartridges used in the guns that killed the men aren't of the type used by police.

One possibility is that the men were killed "to provoke an escalation of the conflict and justify the use of weapons by protesters," the ministry said. 

Another man, 51-year-old Yuriy Verbitskiy, whom protesters say unknown men seized from a hospital with another antigovernment activist Tuesday, died from hypothermia after being dumped from a vehicle outside Kiev, officials said.

Activists have cited higher numbers of deaths and accused police of using excessive brutality against protesters.

One video showed police forcing a detained protester, naked but for a pair of socks, to pose for photos outside a police van in freezing temperatures.

The Interior Ministry said it was investigating the incident.

In a sign that Mr. Yanukovych is losing control of order in some parts of the country, crowds stormed the offices of regional governors appointed by the president in five cities in western and central Ukraine, where most favor closer ties with the European Union.

A crowd of thousands in Lviv, in western Ukraine, demanded that the local governor, Oleh Salo, sign a letter of resignation.

He later repudiated the letter, saying it was signed under threat of physical violence, Ukrainian media reported.

In a video address to Lviv residents, Mayor Andriy Sadoviy criticized police violence in Kiev.

He said that laws passed last week clamping down on dissent "violate the country's constitution and common sense, and will never apply in Lviv."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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