Ukraine PM warns opposition, seeks trade talks
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Wednesday warned the opposition to stop escalating the country's worst political crisis in a decade, as his embattled government sought to hold talks with Brussels and Moscow.
With Ukraine in need of cash to shore up its finances as thousands kept up a permanent demonstration in the heart of Kiev, President Viktor Yanukovych pressed on with a scheduled visit to China which could net significant financial deals.
With some 1,500 pro-EU demonstrators blockading the seat of government, Azarov said that the fact he had survived a vote of no confidence the day earlier showed it was time for the country’s biggest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution to wind down.
“I am announcing a call to stop an escalation of political tensions,” Azarov said at the first government meeting since the crisis began more than a week ago as protesters sought to blockade the government headquarters amid a heavy police presence.
“I would like to tell people: your leaders are putting you up to a crime,” he said. “They will try to hide behind lawmaker immunity. But you will have no one to hide behind.”
“The reasons for streets protests have been exhausted,” he said, adding the authorities were keeping the situation under control.
Yanukovych in China
Under pressure from the opposition, Azarov has said his government would on Wednesday send a delegation to Brussels to renew talks on a key EU trade and political pact whose rejection by Kiev sparked the mass protests.
But he also said another delegation would simultaneously travel to Moscow, which wants ex-Soviet Ukraine to join a Russia-led customs union.
After rejecting the opportunity to sign the EU Association Agreement and free trade deal, Yanukovych called instead for trilateral talks with both Moscow and Brussels, a proposal the EU has rejected.
A European Union source said officials in Brussels were ready to renew talks on a pact that would put the ex-Soviet nation on a path to EU integration.
“We are ready to discuss various aspects of the implementation of the AA/DCFTA with Ukraine and explain in detail the very concrete substantial benefits such an agreement will bring to Ukraine,” the source said, referring to an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.
“We are however not ready to reopen negotiations on the text of the agreement.”
The European Commission said late Tuesday it could not immediately confirm the Ukrainian delegation’s visit.
A Russian source familiar with the situation told AFP that Ukraine-Russia talks were planned for Wednesday but said it was not immediately clear who will participate.
A Russian government source indicated separately that first deputy prime minister of Ukraine, Yury Boiko, was expected in Moscow.
The EU accused Moscow of pressuring its smaller neighbour to walk away from the deal. But Yanukovych has vigorously defended his decision.
He arrived on his visit to China which is due to last until December 6, holding talks in Xian with regional officials before moving on for an expected visit to Beijing.
Opposition leaders including world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who declared his bid to run for the presidency in 2015, say the government betrayed the people by balking after years of negotiations.
On Sunday, pro-EU Ukrainians’ anger exploded into huge street protests that called on Yanukovych to resign and degenerated into unprecedented clashes with riot police.
Protesters urged ‘not to give up’
The government survived an opposition no-confidence motion in parliament on Tuesday after Azarov apologised for the use of force against demonstrators.
The motion mustered just 186 of the 226 votes required to pass.
There had been little prospect of the motion passing, with Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party controling the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.
Despite the setback the opposition called for sustained pressure from the street.
“I am calling on you not to give up,” Klitschko told some 30,000 supporters on Tuesday.
Former president and co-leader of the Orange Revolution Viktor Yushchenko said the authorities and the opposition should immediately sit down for talks.
“The situation could spiral out of control in the next few days,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has attacked the protests as neither legitimate nor representative saying they “seem more like a pogrom than a revolution.”