An emergency session of Ukraine’s Parliament was called yesterday following the deaths of two protesters by apparent gun shot wounds and a statement by the opposition that protesters would take the offensive against police. President Viktor Yanukovich enacted the meeting in hopes of stopping an escalation of the violence that resulted from Parliament’s passing of strict anti-protest laws earlier this week. The new laws virtually ban public demonstrations and mass gatherings of people, which have become increasingly common after Yanukovich failed to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union last November. Protesters in Kiev and security forces agreed to a temporary truce during the meeting of Parliament.
Protests have grown increasingly more violent as of late, as protesters have used rocks, Molotov cocktails, and even a catapult against security officers. Police have responded by using batons, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets against protesters. However, on Wednesday, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office confirmed that two civilians were killed by live ammunition. Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, stated that police in the area did not have firearms in their possession and instead accused the anti-government protesters of bringing ‘terrorists’ onto the streets of Kiev. The Interior Minister argued that if details emerge linking protesters to the usage of firearms, then police would have to arm themselves accordingly.
Azarov has insisted that protesters are being used to carry out a coup d’état by opposition members. A key demand issued by the opposition is a call for earlier presidential elections. Vitiali Klitchko, who has become the popular face of the anti-government movement in Ukraine, is considered to be a solid candidate if early elections occurred. Azarov accused Klitchko of attempting to overthrow the legitimate government and stated that the government was required by law to restore order to the country.
In a sign that there is still hope for dialogue between the two sides, Azarov has ruled out implementing a state of emergency in Ukraine any time soon. The emergency Parliament meeting following the two gun inflicted protester deaths is to address a potential political resolution to the crisis. President Yanukovich has insisted that he wants to put an end to the bloodshed and chaos and stated that the “Situation must be resolved immediately.” Protests recently spread from Kiev to other areas, most notably on Thursday, when thousands of civilians stormed the regional administration headquarters in Rivne demanding the release of people detained during unrest there.
Meanwhile, the international community has also appealed for an end to the violence. Both the European Union and the United States have condemned the new anti-protest laws and cases of excessive police force. The United States has since revoked visas from Ukrainian officials believed to have been a part of violence against protesters. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned Ukraine was facing a possible catastrophe and urged U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to come together and attempt to broker peaceful negotiations.
The recent turmoil has made downtown Kiev resemble a war zone. The emergency Parliamentary meeting between Yanukovich and opposition members hopefully will help facilitate peaceful dialogue, however, the deaths of two civilians by firearms likely will complicate the situation even further. Ukraine undoubtedly is in a state of emergency, whether it is official or not.
By Peter Grazul