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Violent Protests in Ukraine Seek Constitutional Change


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On Tuesday Ukraine’s president Yanokovich repealed the anti-protest laws he had imposed on 16 January. The country has been the stage for violent demonstrations and clashes between the police and protesters since the political opposition took to the streets in frustration over the anti-protest laws. Reports tell of six dead, among them 1 policeman, and 1,250 injured in the clashes. Both parties accuse each other of not doing enough to stop the violence.

Emergency sessions repeal anti-protest laws
On Tuesday the controversial anti-protest laws that criminalized protests and restricted media were repealed at an emergency session in parliament following two weeks of violence all over the country. The opposition leaders and protesters still call for further actions such as granting amnesty to more than 200 activists detained since demonstrations started in November. Further, fundamental constitutional changes that reduce the president’s power to the same level as in 2004 are necessary for protesters to leave seized government buildings in several central cities throughout the country.

Talks with opposition leaders
The opposition groups have taken over control of many official buildings and regional state administration in Rivne and Lviv. Unconfirmed reports speak of attacks on the governor’s offices in Zhytomyr, Khmelnytskiv, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Last week President Yanukovich held talks with three opposition leaders, VitaliKlitschko, OlehTayhnybok and ArseniyYatsenyuk in order to put an end to the violence. VitaliKlitschko brought with him three main demands: snap presidential elections, cancellation of the new anti-protest laws and resignation of the government. The government has previously accused Klitschko of attempting to stage a coup d’etat.

Yanokovich’s conundrum
The violence broke out 19 January when President Yanukovich announced repressive laws in order to contain the growing protesters that had risen since November last year when he accepted an economic agreement with Russia, and thus pulled out of a landmark treaty with the European Union. Protesters are frustrated, accusing the president of reversing the development of modernization in the country.

Only five months ago in September last year President Yanokovich had shouted “forget about it… forever!” when talks fell on deeper ties with Russia. Yanukovich back then argued for deeper trade and cooperation with the European Union as a better choice for Ukraine, despite the fact that such a deal with the EU would provoke Russia. But the outlook for a trade pact with the EU was complicated when the EU and many of its leaders repeatedly called for the release of former President YuliaTymoschenko as a condition for signing the agreement with Ukraine.

Old political rivalries
YuliaTymoschenko is President Yanukovich’s political opponent. After his presidential victory in 2010 she was accused of abuse of power and embezzlement. She was sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentence was met with demonstrations, and many international organizations viewed the trial as a politically biased persecution violating the Ukrainian law. It was the EU and IMF’s demand for the release of Tymoschenko that made them less attractive partners. For Yanukovich the choice had to be made between risking economic damage from Russia by allying with the EU, or political damage domestically by allying with Russia.

The agreement with the EU was important for most Ukranians as it would ensure much closer cooperation with Europe with the prospect of massive investments, and mark a definitive break with Russia’s long-ruling control over the country. Instead, the agreement with Russia will ensure that Russia buys the Ukranian debt and the cost of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine are cut by almost one-third of the price.

President Yanokovich is discussing the possibility for amnesty for the activists under the conditions that protesters leave official buildings and dismantle barricades. But the president might have to take more radical steps to stop all violence and social unrest, as opposition groups hold on to the demand for his resignation.


The author is an investigative reporter currently residing in Paris, France. She has written about international politics and organized crime for a variety of international and Danish magazines and newspapers.

Written by TES and published on 31-January-2014




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