Bloomberg News

Ukraine Opposition Pressures Yanukovych After Deadly Riot

January 23, 2014

Kiev Protests

Protesters clash with riot police after two protesters were confirmed dead in Kiev, Ukraine, Jan. 22, 2014. Photographer: Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images

Ukraine’s opposition sought to ratchet up pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych after clashes between police and protesters turned deadly.

Opponents will meet Yanukovych at 3 p.m. local time today to demand snap elections and the annulment of anti-protest laws after giving the president a 24-hour deadline yesterday, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told TV5 before noon. The former heavyweight boxing champion agreed to a truce with riot police until 8 p.m. in the center of Kiev, where demonstrators set tires on fire to complicate police movements.

The Cause of Unrest in Ukraine

Yanukovych is struggling to stem rallies against his November snub of a European Union cooperation deal, with police crackdowns fanning people’s anger. Three days and nights of clashes left as many as five people dead and about 2,000 injured as anti-protest laws took effect at midnight yesterday and the government gave the police special powers to quell the demonstrations.

“The more blood is spilled, the harder it becomes for the opposition to give up without achieving its objectives and for the government to make concessions,” Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform, said by phone yesterday. “The government needs to show that it’s not just holding talks with the opposition as a PR stunt.”

Western Threats

Two bodies with gunshot wounds were found at a medical point set up by activists, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said yesterday. The opposition later said five had died. The U.S. said it would revoke the visas of persons linked to violence and the EU warned it was considering its course of actions in response.

The cost to protect the nation’s debt against non-payment using five-year credit-default swaps jumped to 841 basis points, the highest since Dec. 16. The yield on Ukrainian government bonds due 2023 rose for a fourth day, surging to 9.189 percent, the highest level since Dec. 26, as of 12:34 p.m. in Kiev, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Russia reiterated that the West should quit interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Russia is convinced Ukraine’s authorities “know perfectly well what to do” and “resents” the interference of Western governments, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was cited as saying in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published today.

Gorbachev Plea

Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a 1990 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin to request they broker peaceful resolution to crisis in Ukraine, according to Interfax news service.

“I ask you to find a way and take a decisive step to help Ukraine get back on the road to peaceful development,” Gorbachev wrote in a letter reported by Interfax.

European Commission President Jose Barroso spoke with Yanukovych today by phone, urging the Ukrainian head of state to “have the highest level of dialogue with the opposition immediately,” according to EU spokesman Olivier Bailly.

He also reiterated to reporters in Brussels that the EU would “assess possible consequences in its relationship with Ukraine” if the situation is not “stabilized.”

More than three hours of negotiations yesterday left the opposition frustrated. Yanukovych didn’t answer the demand for a snap election, Klitschko, the head of the UDAR party, told yesterday’s demonstration, where the RBC news service estimated turnout at more then 50,000 people.

No Result

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday that Ukraine won’t listen to demands delivered by extremists, accusing protesters of provoking police force in order to blame the authorities for casualties. He said police near parliament weren’t firing live rounds and praised their professionalism.

The U.S. yesterday urged all sides to stop the violence, criticizing the government for “failure to engage in real dialogue and the passage of anti-democratic legislation,” according to an e-mailed statement from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Aggressive actions by members of nationalist group Pravy Sektor are also unacceptable, she said. EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called for “genuine” talks to end the crisis.

Legislation Backlash

Anti-protest legislation passed last week backfired by turning a Jan. 19 demonstration violent. As activists gathered for a rally at Independence Square, the government approved temporary security measures for the police, allowing officers to use water cannons in sub-zero temperatures and limit public access, including traffic.

Protesters reinforced barricades around the Independence Square overnight and continued to set tires on fire to create black smoke in front of a riot police line on the street leading to parliament.

Groups of activists, many of them elderly women, were breaking stones out of the pavement before noon in Kiev, packing them into bags to strengthen barricades up to about 4 meters (13 feet) in height.

“Blood hasn’t been spilled for nothing,‘‘said Ihor Lavrinyuk, 27-year-old computer programmer who joined the protest in Kiev yesterday and plans to volunteer as an IT specialist for activists, or do other tasks. ‘‘There’s no way back and the government must go.’’

Repelling Police

Fires were started yesterday after two failed attempts by police to dismantle the barricades under a barrage of projectiles including Molotov cocktails, and to push the protesters back toward the square by using rubber bullets, smoke bombs and stun grenades, as well as deploying an armored vehicle. More than 70 people have been detained, the Interior Ministry said.

Several activists who sought medical help overnight at hospitals were detained, TV5 reported.

It’s unclear whether the fatal wounds resulted from live rounds or rubber bullets, a Kiev police representative said by phone. One of the deceased was Serhiy Nigoyan, a 21-year-old Armenian with Ukrainian citizenship, prosecutors said. The other was Mikhail Zhyzneuski from Belarus, Radio Liberty reported.

Reports that a 22-year-old died in the hospital after being beaten and falling are being probed, the Interior Ministry said yesterday. More than 1,700 activists have been injured, according to the opposition, while the Interior Ministry said 195 policemen have sought medical help.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule is scheduled to visit Kiev for two days starting tomorrow to discuss the recent developments.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at dkrasnolutsk@bloomberg.net; Ott Ummelas in Kiev at oummelas@bloomberg.net; Volodymyr Verbyany in Kiev at vverbyany1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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