Ukrainian Protest Leader Challenges President to Debate

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/112078056@N07/

Ukraine is seeing continued protests and unrest following January 16 anti-democratic legislation from the Ukrainian parliament, as well as the government passing on a European trade deal in favor of relations with Russia, which ultimately has withdrawn its formerly agreed upon loan, placing Ukraine in a difficult economic position likely to end in default on at least some of its debt.

Now, the Ukrainian SBU, the secret service branch of its government, has released a statement alerting the public of an increase in terrorist threats on infrastructure including atomic power stations, gas and oil pipelines, and airports, according to Reuters, though it is unclear whether the attack threats are increasing in relation to the continued protests or if a separate concern is cropping up.

“The SBU’s anti-terrorist center, in accordance with the law, is obliged to put on readiness anti-terrorist units on the territory of the state,” read the release, per Reuters, noting that the alert is precautionary and that certain services, such as bus stations and other big transport centers in cities, are higher risk.

Reuters reports that this alert comes with additional precautions that include higher protection for state buildings, making it difficult to come close, and taking up areas of weapon storage — possibly an aim at preventing further efforts of protestors to take over government buildings. “The action carried out by the security services … is aimed solely at ensuring public safety and stopping criminal activities with a terrorist goal. These measures are transparent and primarily preventative in nature,” read the statement, according to the news service.

Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, has kept up continuous rhetoric against any extremist action from protestors, who have been calling for the president’s removal and for free elections.

“(It is necessary) to say ‘no’ to extremism, radicalism and incitement to hostility in the society based on the political struggle for power. … If someone had spoke of [the events of protests] some time ago we wouldn’t have believed that. Unfortunately, such manifestations take place in our country. Vandalism in the course of the seizure of state premises and calls that sound remind us the lessons of the long-time history. We wouldn’t like that to ever happen again,” said Yanukovych in a government press release.

Vitali Klitschko, head of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, one of three major protest organizations calling for the president to step down, re-emphasized that desire in a press release on Friday, also reporting that he had met with leaders of both Batkivshchyna and Svoboda groups to discuss the need for punishment and accountability for those officials who took part in repressive acts against protestors, including beatings, torture, abductions, and a number of deaths.

He publicly challenged Yanukovych to a public debate on Sunday, claiming that the suggestion had originally been the president’s — though an invitation to debate at the Maidan in front of thousands of protestors is not the most acceptable neutral territory. “People need change of state power and playing field. We do not need to wait for six months until a new constitution is written. We can return to the Constitution of 2004 now. After that we will work on a new version. People demand early presidential elections,” he said, according to a UDAR press release.

More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet: