Ukraine protesters give president ultimatum

KIEV - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday demanded an extraordinary session of parliament to ease the crisis in the country after five days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.
The three main opposition leaders were to hold crisis talks with Yanukovych, as world boxing champion and UDAR (Punch) party leader Vitali Klitschko brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police.
Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said parliament would discuss the protesters’ demands for the government’s resignation and the annulment of a controversial anti-protest law at a session expected next week, the presidency said in a statement. But he did not mention early presidential elections, a key opposition demand.
“You know that recent mass riots have been accompanied by violence, bloodshed and arson. Today, the situation requires a quick resolution,” the statement said Yanukovych told Rybak. Yanukovych called for the extraordinary session a dramatic escalation in tensions in the capital.
Activists say five protesters have died in clashes in recent days, marking a new peak in tensions after two months of protests over the government’s failure to sign a deal for closer integration with the European Union.
The fighting raged into the night at the epicentre of the clashes on Grushevsky Street in central Kiev, with demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails and security forces using stun grenades.
However in the morning Klitschko visited the barricades and agreed a truce that would hold until 1800 GMT when the talks between Yanukovych and the opposition are expected to end. “Keep the barricades in place but (be) calm until the talks finish,” he said.
An AFP correspondent at the scene of the fighting on Grushevsky Street confirmed that there had been a pause in clashes and that the truce appeared to be holding. The protesters have marked their frontline with a semicircle of burning tyres which have sent rancid plume of black smoke billowing into the Kiev sky and are visible throughout the city.
However under the terms of the truce, protesters allowed police to douse the fires with water cannon and now only white smoke was rising at the scene.
The leader of the opposition Fatherland party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, had warned the protesters that Yanukovych had 24 hours to agree a peaceful solution.
“If he does not go down that path then we will go forwards together and if it means a bullet to the head, then it is a bullet to the head,” he said.
Protesters sought to reinforce the protest barricades by several metres by filling sandbags with snow, turning the protest zone around Independence Square into a virtual fortress.
“Every 10 metres there is Ukrainian territory that we have to defend and for which we will fight to the end,” said one radical protester on the front line, who asked not to be named.
Yanukovych reassured European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso in a telephone call he does not plan to introduce a state of emergency, the Commission said. Oleg Musiy, the coordinator of the protest medical service, told pro-opposition Hromadske radio, that five people, four with gunshot wounds, were killed and around 300 wounded in Wednesday’s clashes.
Meanwhile a prominent Ukrainian activist and journalist, Igor Lutsenko, on Wednesday appeared in public after being abducted from a hospital by unknown individuals and dumped in a forest outside Kiev. However a man abducted with him, an activist named Yuriy Verbytsky has not been found, and a relative told Ukrainian media that he had been killed in a forest and she had identified his body in a local morgue.
According to the interior ministry, 254 members of the riot police have been hurt in the clashes and 104 have been hospitalised.
Over the five days of clashes, 73 protesters have been arrested and 21 of them have already been ordered to stay in pre-trial detention.
A former MP from Yanukovych’s Region’s Party who switched sides during the protest, Inna Bogoslovska, bluntly told the rally on Independence Square the authorities were doomed: “Viktor Fyodorovich, this is the end,” she said.
But Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who is at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he faces a chilly reception, warned that “any anti-constitutional actions in the capital have to be stopped”.
The deadly violence horrified Ukrainians, who have never witnessed such scenes in their country including during the 2004 Orange Revolution which was almost entirely peaceful.
Amid calls for sanctions against the Ukrainian government, the European Commission has warned of “possible actions” against the Ukrainian authorities, while the United States also revoked the visas of several Ukrainian nationals linked to violence against protesters in November and December last year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Ukraine must safeguard the lives of pro-EU demonstrators. But Merkel said she opposed sanctions for the moment.
Ukraine’s former master Russia, which has regarded the country’s pro-EU protest movement with suspicion from the start, has taken a different view and blamed the opposition and West for the clashes.

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