Violence continues to erupt in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, even as President Viktor Yanukovych promised on Friday several concessions just to end the unrest. However, these pronouncements made before a meeting with church leaders in Kiev failed to impress the protesters who instead built more street barricades and defiantly remained in the streets to engage riot policemen.
These mass protests against the government of Yanukovych started last November when the president and several Ukrainian officials decided to pull out of talks to join the European Union (EU) in favor of establishing closer economic ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet master.
Ukraine’s unity day, remembered every Jan. 22, was supposed to be a celebration of her pre-Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) independence, however, the event was marked by civil unrest and violence where five people were killed and several hundreds injured.
The intensity of the now swelling protests heightened this January when the government implemented several new laws passed by the country’s parliament that are viewed as very repressive. These laws include imposing tight controls on media as well as making it a crime to join the protests of the past two months.
In one instance, a law was copied verbatim from its Russian version involving branding charities and human rights groups with financial backings from abroad as “foreign agents.” According to a Centre for Civil Liberties representative, Oleksandra Matviichuk, their parliament has a “crazy photocopier” referring to the copied law. These issues, together with the government’s refusal to join the EU, government mismanagement and charges of corruption among Ukraine’s officials feed the growing fires of discontent of the people.
With the swelling protest getting out of control as the days passed, Yanukovych promised to reshuffle the government and amend the anti-protest laws. “I, as president, will sign a decree and we will reshuffle the government in order to find the best possible professional government team,” Yanukovych said. Included in the concession to the protesters is a reconsideration of the recently passed anti-protest law, many believed it was railroaded through the parliament by legislators loyal to Yanukovych.
Yanukovych also mentioned creating an anti-crisis team to be composed of members from the government and from the opposition, as well as extending amnesties to protesters who were detained but did not commit serious crimes. He told church leaders in the meeting, “I will do all I can to stop this conflict, to stop this violence and establish stability.”
Ukraine is politically divided between the Russian-speaking east where the current president was born and the nationalist and pro-European west. In ditching Ukraine’s plans to join the EU, Russia promised Yanukovych a $15 billion loan and cheap gas to support efforts to rehabilitate his country’s bankrupt economy. Russia also accused the West of meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
In recent days, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned Yanukovych reminding him to initiate steps to diffuse the on-going tensions, while French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both called for dialogues between the government and the protesters to solve the issues.
President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine may be in for tougher times ahead even as he promised several concessions just to end the unrest. The people continued their violent protests, disregarding the president’s latest pronouncements and now also demand his resignation.
By Roberto I. Belda