Tensions Rise In Ukraine After Yanukovych Supporters Pass Protest-Busting Bill

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian parliament has passed a bill that would limit the right to demonstrate. The opposition called the move a "power grab," while Western powers expressed concerns about democratic principles in Ukraine.

Ukrainian deputies clash in the parliament in Kiev, Jan. 16, 2014.

Tensions heightened overnight in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, after supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych introduced and passed sweeping legislation through parliament late on Thursday.

The move sparked outcry among opposition lawmakers who accused them of illegally trying to curb anti-government protests.

The pro-government lawmakers reportedly passed the bill 235-450, taking the vote by a show of hands rather than the procedural electronic system.

The European Union and the United States voiced concern that the move reflected signs of a deterioration of democratic principles in Ukraine.

The EU ambassador to the country, Jan Tombinsky, criticized the voting method implemented to pass the bill swiftly, saying:

"Norms should be adopted through proper procedures, otherwise the credibility of democratic institutions and of the legal system is at stake."

The US State Department echoed the EU's concerns in a statement:
"The United States expresses its deep concern that the Ukrainian Rada pushed through several controversial measures today without adhering to proper procedures. Some of these measures will restrict the right to peacefully protest and exercise the freedom of speech, constrain independent media, and inhibit the operation of NGOs. If Ukraine truly aspires to a European future, it must defend and advance universal democratic principles and values that underpin a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and not allow them to be systematically dismantled. "
 "We call on the Government of Ukraine to ensure its legislation reflects Ukraine’s democratic commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the wishes of its people to exercise their fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. Both the process and the substance of the Rada’s actions today cast serious doubt on Ukraine’s commitment to democratic norms. A true democracy cannot function without dialogue, compromise, the right to peaceful dissent, and a legislature that enjoys the people’s trust. The bill passed on Thursday, which now awaits the president's signature, would curb the right to demonstrate by levying fines and, in some cases, prison sentences ranging from two to 15 years."
Punishable offenses include blockading public spaces; entering public buildings en masse; facilitating protests through financial or logistical means; and setting up stages or tents in public spaces.

Earlier in the day, the parliament temporarily banned major demonstrations in central Kiev until March 8.

Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in the capital, Kiev since November, calling for the resignation of Yanukovych's government after he decided to shelve an EU Association Agreement.

Critics fear the decision resulted from undue influence from Moscow.

Source: Deutsche Welle