Protesters Stand Firm In Ukraine, Expand Their Demands

KIEV, Ukraine -- Anti-government demonstrators who have paralyzed the capital for weeks said Wednesday that despite key concessions already made by President Viktor Yanukovych, they want more — a complete change in their system.

A protester guards the barricades in front of riot police in Kiev, Ukraine. The text reads “War to palaces, peace to home.” Ukraine's parliament is considering measures to grant amnesty to those arrested during weeks of protests in the crisis-torn country, but possibly with conditions attached that would be unacceptable to the opposition.

"We need to change the parliament, and then re-elect the president," said Lilia Kirikova, a designer from Kiev who has been at the protests in the center of the city regularly since they broke out in November.

"But the election must happen after we return to the Constitution we had in 2004," she added, referring to 2010 reforms giving the president more power over parliament.

"The interior minister and the riot police must be punished for their violent actions." 

The protests began in late November after the president dismissed a trade deal with the European Union and instead set a course for closer ties with Russia.

Initially the demands by protesters centered on closer ties with Europe.

But after numerous clashes with police and a refusal to back down, protesters have expanded their demands beyond amnesty for demonstrators.

They are now demanding a change in the constitution to give more powers to parliament over the president and a full change in the regime.

Lawmakers have given in to the demand that they repeal the anti-protest laws that sparked an escalation of street protests last week.

That escalation resulted in five protester deaths.

Also, the prime minister and the Cabinet resigned, but not the president.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to give amnesty to protesters if they vacate occupied government buildings.

As of now protesters hold one city hall and an agricultural ministry in Kiev, a number of governor's offices in the western regions of the country and several non-governmental buildings in central Kiev.

Despite the concessions, protesters say they won't go.

"At first, we would have been satisfied with as much as a promise from the government to drop the push toward Russia and a promise to sign the deal with EU," said Svyatoslav Grysiuk, a middle-aged protester from Kiev.

"But (now), mostly because of the actions of the government itself — the violence — everyone in the government has to leave.

The amnesty law is good, but it is far from enough — it would mean the protest had no actual result.

"I don't think people here will agree to stop the protest for the amnesty," he said. 

Kirikova, who was wearing a now-common protest symbol, a ribbon in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on her down coat, says the buildings serve a purpose.

"In a weather like this, it will be impossible to stay out here without having the buildings (to warm up in)," she said.

"Maybe the protesters should give up one building at a time, one for each fulfilled demand."

She says that while many protesters hope for help from the West, the only way for foreign nations to influence the situation is to implement financial sanctions against officials that would impact their bank accounts and businesses abroad.

Now the U.S. and EU act "as they do in the normal countries, and expect it to work in Ukraine," Kirikova said.

Source: USA Today