Ukraine says state of emergency not yet on agenda

AFP , Monday 27 Jan 2014

A protester guards the barricades in front of riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Ukraine on Monday said the introduction of a state of emergency was not yet on the agenda after radicals seized the justice ministry in Kiev in an attack that raised concerns of a derailing of talks to ease the crisis.

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday was due to meet to discuss concessions proposed by President Viktor Yanukovych, in a highly anticipated extraordinary session that could be a make-or-break moment to resolve the standoff.

With concern growing in the West that the situation in Ukraine was spiralling out of control, the country's worst crisis since independence was also set to dominate an EU-Russia summit on Tuesday.

The protests, which began in November as a drive for EU integration after Yanukovych ditched a key deal with the bloc under Russian pressure, have now turned into an all out uprising to unseat him.

Amid a febrile atmosphere in Kiev, the Dzerkalo Tyzhnia news website reported the cabinet was preparing a decree for a state of emergency which would restrict movement on some Kiev streets.

But Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara told reporters Monday: "Today we are not considering the introduction of a state of emergency. Today, this measure is not on the table."

Tensions remained high in Kiev after several dozen radical protesters seized control of the justice ministry late Sunday.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash, who is taking part in the negotiations with the opposition, said she would ask for the talks to be broken off if the building was not freed.

If the protesters do not vacate the building, Lukash said she would also approach Ukraine's national security council with "a demand to discuss imposing a state of emergency in this country," Lukash told Ukraine's Inter channel.

After occupying the premises for over 12 hours, the activists walked out of the building but dozens dressed in battle fatigues still blocked the front entrance, an AFP correspondent said.

Opposition leaders said in a joint statement that they were still open to negotiations "despite an attempt by the authorities to abandon the negotiations and declare a state of emergency".

The statement confirmed the justice ministry building had now been emptied of protesters, whose action had been seen as a dangerous provocation by many within the mainstream opposition.

Protesters now control much of the city centre of Kiev around a hub on Independence Square, with their camp protected by barricades several metres high and guarded by activists dressed in balaclavas and armed with baseball bats.

But the rebellion has now spread well beyond Kiev, with protesters occupying regional administrations in all but one region in the west of the country which has traditionally been anti-Yanukovych.

But most worryingly for the president, protests have swept to the country's east and centre, usually considered more his heartland.

Protesters have now blockaded or attempted to blockade 14 of the 25 regional administrations across Ukraine.

However the security forces appear to have been fighting back in the east, using force to disperse protests in the regional centres of Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy and Sumy and arresting dozens, local media reports said.

Under unprecedented pressure, Yanukovych on Saturday offered the opposition posts in government including that of prime minister, but his opponents said the offer fell short of their needs.

Yanukovych proposed sharing leadership with Fatherland party chief Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister and UDAR (Punch) chief and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as deputy prime minister.

Klitschko, who is believed to have a personal rivalry with Yatsenyuk, condemned the proposal as a "poisoned offer" in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Yanukovych's office has also said the president is willing to consider constitutional changes to reduce his power and return to a system according more authority to the prime minister.

A crucial day in the standoff is expected to come Tuesday when parliament meets in an extraordinary session to debate and possibly pass some of the changes offered by the president.

"Yanukovych this week will be more inclined to negotiate as he is getting weaker and the protesters stronger," political analyst Yevgen Glibovitsky wrote in a column for online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

The parliament session also coincides with an EU-Russia summit where President Vladimir Putin will be hosted by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

The meeting -- already shortened to less than three hours -- is expected to be shadowed by tensions over Ukraine, with Moscow slamming protesters as extremists but the West worried about police violence.

In a statement on Monday, the European Union stressed that an end to human rights violations by the government "was a prerequisite for the restoration of trust".

The European Union's enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele was returning to Ukraine on Monday for more talks just three days after his last meeting with Yanukovych, the commission said.

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