Ukraine: State of Emergency Threatened

Ukrainian protests in Kiev have continued to escalate despite attempts from the president to negotiate with opposition groups. The protests began following the Ukrainian Rada’s push through of anti-democratic legislation, limiting the freedom of speech and protest, angering it’s European neighbors who have insisted that its recent changes have not been in keeping with the norms of European democratic principles.

The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, met with opposition leaders from Svoboda, Batkivshchyna, and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance — also known as UDAR. A truce was called during the talks, with protests calmed temporarily by the urgings of UDAR leader Vitali Klitschko. Unfortunately, the talks did not result in any concrete solutions, despite certain concessions offered by the president, including positions in government to leaders of opposition. According to a Ukrainian presidential press release, the president offered the post of Prime Minister of Ukraine to Areniy Yatsenyuk — an opposition leader, who would replace the present Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, who has consistently been highly critical of protestors, blaming the recent deaths on what he insists are not peaceful protests, but rather a coup d’etat attempt. The president also offered UDAR leader Klitschko the position of Vice Prime Minister for Humanitarian Affairs.

We have just come from difficult negotiations,” said Klitschko in a speech from the Maidan stage to fellow protestors. “I want to let you know key issues that we discussed. Yanukovych agreed on many of our demands. He is ready to release all detainees and declare amnesty. Moreover, he agreed on restoration of the Constitution of 2004 and resignation of the government under certain conditions,” he continued. The stick pointing in negotiations had to do with those restrictive items passed on January 16, which the president was only willing to “amend” rather than fully remove them as they stand. “Our demand is presidential elections this year,” said Klitschko, also calling for peaceful protests, claiming that, “There are not extremists here.”

The Associated Press reports that after failed negotiation attempts over the weekend protestors took over a fourth major building in downtown Kiev, the Justice Ministry building. Justice Minister Olena Lukash made a statement Monday saying that she would be asking the national security council to put Ukraine into a state of emergency if the Ministry was not vacated soon.

Last Thursday, she had given temporary assurances that a state of emergency was not yet forthcoming. She also claimed in the Monday statement that the building takeover had interrupted staff efforts to dole out amnesty to protesters — many of whom have been arrested since the beginning of the protests — and place more constitutional power in the hands of the prime minister, according to the Associated Press.

Last week, reports of violence and torture in the case of one particular student protestor, Mikhail Nizkoguz, came to light. He said that riot police had first arrested him, then physically beaten him with batons, cut him with knives, and humiliated him by having him undress and sing the national anthem in the cold. More successful negotiation progress seems to have resulted from the European Union’s Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy — Stefan Fule — after he spoke with President Yanukovych, and with Klitschko and leaders of the Svoboda Oleh Tyahnybok party, Batkivshchyna Arseniy Yatsenyuk party, the civil society, and finally, those gathered at Maidan square to protest.

I have discussed a series of steps to this end that could lead to confidence building and to a political process aimed at ending this crisis,” said Fule. “My talks in Kiev showed the need for a series of concrete steps to first start to rebuild trust of people by stopping the spiral of violence and intimidation, to be complemented in a second stage by an inclusive political process leading to the stability of Ukraine,” he said, according to the EU press release.

Before the meeting with Fule, Klitschko emphasized that, “Discussions with the government on resolving an acute political crisis in Ukraine depends on talks with the EU, particularly with Stefan Fule,” re-emphasizing after their discussion that further discussion on how to settle the crisis would need continued mediation from the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — the OSCE.

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