Ukraine protesters, Russia increase pressure on Yanukovich

KIEV Sun Feb 9, 2014 1:43pm EST

1 of 4. People shout slogans during an anti-government rally in Kiev February 9, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

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KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian protesters, now in their third month of action, kept up pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich on Sunday with a mass rally where opposition leaders called for an end to his "dictatorial" powers.

About 20,000 demonstrators rallied on Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of the protest movement, as Yanukovich searched for a new prime minister and the currency of the heavily indebted economy, the hryvnia, remained under strain.

Russia piled further pressure on him at the weekend, linking

disbursement of the next tranche of its $15 billion aid package for Kiev to repayment of a hefty gas bill owed to Russian firms.

Opposition speakers addressed both Yanukovich's governing style and his decision to seek closer economic ties to Russia rather than sign a free trade pact with the European Union.

"We want the system changed in the country - we want a system in which the president serves the will of the people, a president who does not have dictatorial powers," former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk told the crowd.

Far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok attacked Russia's influence over Yanukovich, declaring: "Our struggle is not only against the regime of Yanukovich, but against those who support them - against the Kremlin's imperialistic policy."

Yanukovich met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday.

He has since returned to Kiev but no word has yet filtered out on what the two men discussed.

TIGHTER SECURITY

In an unusual move, the state security service placed anti-terrorism units on alert in what it called a preventive step to stop possible attacks on sensitive installations such as airports and power stations.

It said the new measures would apply to the blocking of approaches to state buildings and calls to seize installations where weapons are stored, a possible move against some radical protesters who have been in violent clashes with police.

The daily protests have complicated Yanukovich's search for a new prime minister to replace Mykola Azarov, who stepped down on January 28. Choosing one unacceptable to the protest movement - could lead to an explosion of anger on the streets.

Yanukovich sparked the protests last November by choosing the $15 billion lifeline from Moscow for Ukraine's ailing economy rather than the EU link that millions of Ukrainians see as their country's future.

At least six people have died in occasional violent clashes between radicals and riot police.

Opposition leaders, with the backing of the Western powers, are pressing for constitutional changes that would re-balance powers - now heavily weighted towards the presidency - between the president, government and parliament.

They have already turned down offers of government posts under Yanukovich and are seeking instead to lead a technocrat government independent of him to manage the ailing economy.

OUTSTANDING GAS BILLS

Vitaly Klitschko, another opposition leader, accused Yanukovich of stalling in talks with them.

"He says we can change the constitution but that we have to wait months. People are not prepared to wait half a year," the boxer-turned politician told the crowd. "They want one thing - early presidential elections."

The next presidential election is due in early 2015.

With the United States and its European allies pressing for Yanukovich to change his mind, Russia has frozen further disbursements under a $15 billion aid package of credits and cheaper gas until it sees the colour of Kiev's next government.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has also pointedly reminded Kiev of its gas debt of $2.7 billion to Moscow.

"We will fulfill what we have promised to Ukraine, but we would like the Ukrainian side to comply with the obligations that it has committed to," he said on Saturday.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Comments (4)
drauckerr wrote:
> until it sees the colour of Kiev’s next government.

What is the point of that clearly biased statement? Putin has clearly stated he will not withhold future payments in the event the government changes. If anything, the current foot dragging is no different than how the U.N. treated Greece when it got bailed out. If you’re going to report, report. If you want to make political commentary, do that on the OpEd pages.

Feb 09, 2014 2:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
UrDrighten wrote:
According to Wikipedia, over 60% of Ukrainians voted for some sort of socialist party during the last elections, and the government has previously bowed to public pressure *not* to privatize certain industries and utilities. Consequently, one must reasonably assume that the protesters represent something less than 1/3 of the Ukraine electorate.

Why should the leftist majority bow to the demands of the right-wing nationalist minority?

Why is it that right-wing German nationalists are called “neonazis”, but right-wing Ukrainian nationalists are called “right-wing Ukrainian nationalists”?

Why does our government support deporting “right-wing Ukrainian nationalists” from the US, but then support the younger “right-wing Ukrainian nationalists” in their efforts to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Ukraine?

Is “right-wing Ukrainian nationalism” the same thing as “right-wing Ukrainian pro-Western democracy”?

It sure seems so!

Perhaps Webster’s dictionary should hold a contest to let people choose whether a photo of Obama or a photo of Kerry goes into the next edition next to the definition for “hypocrisy”.

Feb 09, 2014 4:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
UScitizentoo wrote:
Yanukovich is finished, Putin wants to try now. Ukrainians will decide.

Feb 09, 2014 5:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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