Ukraine: arrest warrant issued as Russia condemns ‘mutineers’

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UKRAINE has issued a warrant for the arrest of its former president, Victor Yanukovych, who fled office on Saturday, leaving Kiev in the hands of protesters.

Arsen Avakov, the country’s interim interior minister and a key opposition figure, said Yanukovych was wanted for the “mass murder of peaceful citizens” the BBC reports.

The Ukrainian parliament has acted swiftly to allay fears that the country was slipping towards civil war. In emergency sessions over the weekend the interim government:

  • voted to impeach Yanukovych.
  • installed the speaker of the house, Oleksandr Turchynov, as interim president.
  • announced new elections to be held in May, meeting the central demand of the Maidan Square protesters.
  • resolved to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
  • expressed its intention to focus on closer integration with the EU.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US “strongly supports” the Ukrainian parliament’s decision to impeach the former president, the BBC reports.

Russia, which had earlier recalled its Ukrainian ambassador due to what it described as the “deteriorating situation” in the country, today condemned the transfer of power in forceful terms.

“Russian news agencies quoted [prime minister] Medvedev as saying the new authorities in Ukraine have come to power as a result of ‘armed mutiny’,” the Daily Telegraph reported. “He lashed out at what he called the EU’s recognition of the new authorities as an ‘aberration of consciousness’.”

The whereabouts of the former president are still unknown, but CCTV footage recovered from the presidential estate, showed trucks being loaded with documents before Yanukovych escaped in a helicopter. On Saturday night border guards blocked the former president’s plane from taking off in his home town of Donetsk. It is believed that Yanukovych may now be in Crimea, a largely pro-Russian area in the south of country, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Amid growing fears that Russia could send troops to the country, Britain offered financial relief to help the interim government. UK Chancellor George Osborne said that Britain and other countries would be ready “with a chequebook” to help “rebuild” Ukraine. Meanwhile, Angele Merkel, the German chancellor, called Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend, and he agreed to work with the German leader to ensure the former Soviet country maintained its “territorial integrity,” The Independent reports.

“They underscored their joint interest in a stable Ukraine – both in economic and political terms,” said a spokesperson for Merkel, who added that the two leaders had agreed to keep in close contact over the coming week.

Unrest in the country continued to pose “many dangers”, according to Foreign Secretary William Hague. He said that Russia’s attitude to the developments was still “uncertain,” but announced that he would hold talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, the BBC reports.

Ukraine: peace deal declared after nation’s ‘bloodiest day’

21 February

A NEW peace deal has reportedly been reached between the Ukrainian government and opposition, following a week of escalating violence in which at least 77 people died.

It comes barely a day after the two sides appeared to have called a truce, which rapidly fell apart as violence broke out again in Kiev’s Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, yesterday morning.

Following all-night talks, mediated by the French, Polish and German foreign ministers, President Viktor Yanukovych announced that a deal would be signed later today. However, the opposition is yet to confirm the claim.

Thursday became the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s modern history, says The Independent, with many anti-government protesters reportedly killed by police snipers.

Since the violence first flared up on Tuesday at least 77 people have been killed, including police officers, and a further 577 have been injured. Monasteries and hotels were turned into makeshift hospitals, with doctors suggesting the death toll could be as high as 100 and would rise further.

The interior ministry claimed that protesters yesterday captured 67 police officers. Amateur footage appears to show police hostages – wearing blue uniforms – being kept in a line by men in plain clothes. A number of them were later released, reports the BBC.

Another video appears to show snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square. Witnesses reported live rounds, petrol bombs and water cannon being used, and some armed demonstrators were reported to be firing towards security forces.

EU foreign ministers yesterday warned that sanctions would be placed on some officials over the violence. The US warned Kiev that it would follow suit.

In last night’s talks, Yanukovych apparently expressed willingness to hold early elections this year, a move that might help placate the opposition. His aide was later quoted as saying that “forces of peace” among presidential advisers had defeated the “hawks”.

Ukraine: many dead in Kiev as truce falls apart

20 February

LIVE rounds have been fired at protesters at Independence Square in Kiev, hours after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych agreed a truce with opposition leaders.

Estimates of the death toll vary wildly. The BBC says at least 22 people have been killed, but a medic who had been treating protesters said that as many as 70 were dead.

This afternoon the Ukrainian government said that 70 police officers had been taken hostage by demonstrators, but that has not been confirmed.

Sky News reported this morning that police were “reacting very aggressively” and “basically just shooting people”. A sniper with a rifle on a tripod had been seen “picking off protesters”, Sky reports, but there are conflicting reports about what side he was on. Protesters are also throwing petrol bombs, while police are using water cannon.

BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg reported that the lobby of his Kiev hotel had become a “makeshift hospital and morgue”.

The lobby of our #Kiev hotel is now a makeshift hospital & morgue: casualties brought here from this morning’s explosion of violence

— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) February 20, 2014

The fresh violence comes after Yanukovych announced a truce with the opposition late last night, following violent clashes that killed at least 26 people earlier this week – the bloodiest few days since the unrest began in late November.

Yanukovych last night met members of a crisis group, including the country’s three main opposition leaders, and a statement on the presidential website declared that it had agreed to “start negotiations aimed at stopping the bloodshed, stabilising the situation in the country and achieving social peace”.

The opposition had confirmed the truce and said there would be no new police attempts to storm the Maidan. However, this no longer appears to be the case. Meanwhile, Yanukovych has sacked the head of the armed forces, Col Gen Volodymyr Zamana, and replaced him with the navy commander, Adm Yuriy Ilyin, giving no reason for the dismissal.

The scale of violence and the international outrage has ratcheted up the pressure on Yanukovych, with foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland due to decide whether to impose sanctions against Ukraine. They are expected to meet Yanukovich today.

US President Barack Obama had earlier warned that another outbreak of violence could have “consequences” and expressed hope that the truce “may hold”. The US announced yesterday that it had imposed visa travel bans on around 20 senior members of the Ukrainian government, banning them from the US.

Russia, meanwhile, has characterised the violence as an “attempted coup” by extremists.

Ukraine protests: ‘war’ in Kiev pushes death toll to 25

19 February

UKRAINIAN police launched a fresh attack on protesters in Kiev this morning after overnight talks between the opposition and government broke down.

The last 24 hours have seen some of the worst violence in the three-month political crisis that has engulfed the Eastern European country. The scene in Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan, was described as “apocalyptic” as explosions echoed around the area, fires burned and fireworks were thrown. Tents and even people were in flames, as the death toll climbed to at least 25.

Protesters hurled rocks, broken paving stones and Molotov cocktails as armoured riot squads targeted them with stun grenades, water cannon and rubber bullets.

The violence erupted on Tuesday when around 20,000 protesters clashed with police outside parliament as they rallied in support of plans to strip President Viktor Yanukovych of a raft of powers.

Security forces gave the protesters a deadline of 6pm local time yesterday to leave the square, and when the deadline expired, riot police advanced with an armoured vehicle.

After the failed overnight talks, police launched a new assault shortly after 4am local time this morning.

Protesters held their defence lines, burning tyres on the barricades. However, one BBC correspondent said police had this morning taken control of a corner of the square for the first time since December.

Authorities claim that nine of the dead were police, allegedly killed by gunshots. A journalist has also died, and there are fears that the number of dead may rise as hundreds of people are treated for injuries.

President Yanukovych blamed the opposition for the violence and urged them to distance themselves from radical elements of the protest.

Activists meanwhile have accused the authorities, with former boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urging protesters to protect their “small island of freedom”.

He added: “The state has launched a war against its own people. Responsible democratic countries cannot stand back and let this happen.”

Ukraine: 7 die in deadly Kiev flare-up

18 February

SEVEN people are reported to have died and many more have been injured in new violence in Kiev.

Protesters attempting to march on the Ukrainian parliament were stopped by police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, according to the BBC.

“The clashes came as MPs were due to debate changes to the constitution,” the BBC reported. “The proposals would restore the 2004 constitution and curb the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych, but the opposition say they were blocked from submitting their draft.”

The Times reports that “several hundred protesters briefly seized President Yanukovych’s party headquarters after attacking it with Molotov cocktails.” They later withdrew as the buidling caught fire.

If the seven deaths are confirmed it will take the total death toll of protesters to 13.

How did the original protests begin?

The protests, nicknamed ‘EuroMaidan’, began in November after Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania in November, thus derailing three years of talks with the EU.

Protesters argued that by refusing to loosen ties with Russia, Yanukovych was denying Ukraine the economic and social benefits of a relationship with the EU.

The protests began in Independence Square but quickly spread across the country. At one point, up to a million protesters were demanding the removal of President Yanukovych from office.

“The Ukrainians have never had their own country. And it’s already been, how long? How long can you wait for independence?” one protester told the Daily Telegraph.

Who are the protesters?

Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU deal appears to have unified opposition groups in protest. Politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians, had previously attended the protests.

Also in attendance were members of the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda and Arseniy Yatnenyuk, leader of Ukraine’s second largest party, Fatherland – and a bitter rival of President Yanukovych.

The best-known political figure in attendance is former boxing champion and leader of the Udur party Vitali Klitschko, who aims to run for president in 2015. His party advocates cutting ties with Russia and turning towards Europe instead. However, in this weekend’s protests, Klitschko has been out on the streets urging protesters to refrain from attacking police.

How has the world responded to the protests?

Vladimir Putin has said that the protests have “nothing to do with Ukraine-EU relations”, reports Russia Today. Putin has placed the blame on “outside actors” for the protests, which he said were an “attempt to unsettle Ukraine’s legitimate rulers”.

Over the weekend, Washington and other Western capitals denounced the new laws banning rallies as undemocratic but also urged both sides to “de-escalate the situation”.

Channel 4’s Matt Frei describes the situation as “a proxy cold war, played out on Ukraine’s streets”, while the Economist suggests that “with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians defying their thuggish post-Soviet government, the battle for Ukraine as an independent country has started in earnest”.

However, Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian foreign affairs committee warned Ukrainians against a partnership with Europe. “There is an attempted raid on Ukraine, not from Moscow but Brussels, grabbing it by the neck and dragging it to paradise”, he said. “The word ‘paradise’ should be in inverted commas, of course. For Bulgaria, Greece and even for Serbia, which is just an EU candidate country, the promised ‘paradise’ turned to hopeless gloom.”

Ukrainian protesters attack police to defy new protest ban

20 January

PROTESTERS have clashed with riot police in Kiev after tough anti-protest legislation was rushed through parliament last week.

The political opposition called on the public to ignore the new laws, which they claim pave the way for a police state, but appealed for calm. Nevertheless, protesters threw smoke bombs, fireworks and other objects at police, while a group of young masked demonstrators attacked a cordon of police with sticks. Some tried to overturn a bus blocking their way to the parliament building.

Around 30 police were said to have been hurt, with more than ten admitted to hospital, four of them in “serious” condition. As tensions continued into Sunday night, police used water cannon against demonstrators gathered near the heavily protected government headquarters.

It is the latest in a series of protests in the country since Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych made a policy U-turn in November away from the European Union towards Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord. ·

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