Ukraine: Key position offer fails to calm protest

The coffin of an anti'government protester killed during recent rallies is carried by supporters. Picture: Reuters
The coffin of an anti'government protester killed during recent rallies is carried by supporters. Picture: Reuters
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Police clashed with protesters in central Kiev yesterday and the fate of Ukraine’s government was uncertain last night after embattled president Viktor Yanukovich offered key posts to opposition leaders, including the role of prime minister.

One of the president’s main foes described his offer as a “poisoned” attempt to divide the opposition and kill off mass protests. The demonstrations erupted late last year when Mr Yanukovich ditched landmark agreements with the European Union and opted instead for closer ties with Russia.

Emboldened opposition leaders said they would press for more concessions, including early elections, setting the stage for a tough political battle when parliament meets for a special session tomorrow.

The two-month standoff has sparked the worst violence in Ukraine since it won independence in 1991. At least six people have been killed, according to the prosecutor’s office and medics, and the crisis has deepened tension between Russia and the West.

For the opposition, accepting Mr Yanukovich’s offer to serve under him in a revamped government carries the risk of breaking faith with thousands of peaceful demonstrators, as well as alienating more radical protesters over whom it has only tenuous control.

“Yanukovich’s offer always appeared as a poisoned chalice for the opposition – meant to divide the opposition, and boost his chances in the March 2015 presidential election,” Tim Ash of Standard Bank said.

In the latest violence yesterday, a few thousand protesters tried to storm an ornate cultural centre where hundreds of security forces personnel were gathered in central Kiev, a few hundred yards from the hub of weeks of opposition protests on Independence Square.

In a two-hour pre-dawn confrontation, demonstrators threw stones and smoke bombs while police fired stun grenades and sprayed water into the crowd.

Police and security forces later left the building, its windows shattered, and streamed out through a corridor created by the crowd after an opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko, arrived at the scene and helped to negotiate a solution.

The opposition planned to hold a prayer ceremony later yesterday for the protesters who have been killed. A coffin bearing the body of one of them, Mykhailo Zhyznevsky, was borne through the streets of Kiev before his burial, with several hundred people marching behind. Mr Zhyznevsky, a Belarussian living in Ukraine, was one of three people officially recognised by the prosecutor’s office as having died from gunshot wounds after clashes last week. He would have been 26 yesterday.

Mr Yanukovich abruptly abandoned plans to sign political association and free trade deals with the EU in November, pledging instead to improve ties with former Soviet master Russia, so angering millions who dream of a European future.

The unrest has spilled over into other regions of the country of 46 million people. Protesters have occupied municipal headquarters in up to ten places, many of them in western Ukraine where opposition to Mr Yanukovich’s rule is strongest.