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Europe

Ukraine’s president goes on sick leave at height of crisis

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-30

Ukraine’s embattled President Viktor Yanukovich on Thursday went on sick leave for an undetermined period with some accusing him of simply trying to buy himself time in the increasingly fraught negotiations to end the country’s political crisis.

“The president of Ukraine has been officially registered as sick, with an acute respiratory ailment and a high temperature,” a statement on the presidential website said.

The announcement on his health gave no sign of when he might be back at his desk or able to appoint a new government, which Moscow says must be in place before it goes ahead with a planned purchase of $2 billion of Ukrainian government bonds.

Some opposition figures said they suspected Yanukovich might be giving himself a breathing space after being forced into concessions to try to calm the unrest on the streets.

“This smacks of a ‘diplomatic illness’,” Rostislav Pavlenko, a member of boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party, told Reuters. “It allows Yanukovich not to sign laws, not to meet the opposition, absent himself from decisions to solve the political crisis.”

Mykhailo Chechetov , a close ally of Yanukovich, who was last seen in parliament on Wednesday night, rejected that interpretation, saying the president had “looked ill”.

Hours after his sick leave was announced, Yanukovich turned on the "irresponsible" opposition which has refused to abandon over two months of protests despite a string of concessions, including an amnesty for jailed demonstrators.

Opposition rejects amnesty

The opposition has rejected the amnesty, however, because it is conditional on protesters leaving occupied streets and buildings 15 days after the bill comes into force.

"The opposition is continuing to inflame the situation and is calling on people to stand in the freezing cold due to the political ambitions of several leaders," he said.

He said the opposition was making "ill-considered and irresponsible announcements, thinking about their own ratings more than the life and health of people."

But in a rare show of contrition, Yanukovich also admitted he needed to take more account of the country's mood.

"From my side, I will show more understanding for the demands and ambitions of people, taking into account the mistakes that authorities always make."

No successor to PM yet

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned on Tuesday after a sharp escalation of the unrest on the streets, which began in November when Yanukovich rejected a European Union deal in favour of closer ties and a bailout deal with Russia.

The president, under pressure from Moscow not to tilt policy back towards the West, has yet to appoint a successor. Serhiy Arbuzov, Azarov’s first deputy and a close family friend of Yanukovich, has stepped in as interim prime minister.

The president has not had a history of ill health. He has full control over the government and still has solid backing in parliament but there are signs of discontent in his Party of Regions over the continuing crisis on the streets.

Six people have been killed and hundreds have been injured in street battles between anti-government demonstrators and police which escalated sharply after the authorities toughened their response. A police officer who died on the street on Wednesday night took the death toll to seven.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-30

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