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Europe

US readying sanctions against Ukraine, aides say

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-30

Washington is preparing financial sanctions that could be imposed on Ukrainian officials and protest leaders if violence escalates in the political crisis gripping the country, congressional aides told Reuters on Wednesday.

The aides, who asked not to be identified by name, said they had discussed the sanction preparations with administration officials.

They said final details of the package have not been worked out, but it could be put in place quickly against government officials – or leaders of the protest movement – in the case of widespread violence.

Six people have been killed in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities during protests that erupted more than two months ago after President Viktor Yanukovich walked away from a treaty with the European Union under pressure from Russia.

Washington has already revoked the visas of some Ukrainian officials.

President Barack Obama referred to Ukraine in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, voicing support for the principle that all people have the right to free expression.

Amnesty

The revelation came on the same day that the Ukrainian parliament passed a measure offering amnesty to those arrested during the protests, but only if demonstrators vacate the buildings they occupy.

The measure, put forward by a lawmaker from the Yanukovich’s ruling party, was quickly greeted with derision by the opposition, who regard the arrests made during the protests – 328 by one lawmaker’s count – as fundamentally illegitimate.

“In reality, parliament has just passed a law on hostages,” said Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the opposition nationalist Svoboda party and one of the protests’ leading figures. “The authorities have themselves recognised that they are taking hostages, as terrorists [would], so they can trade them,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

That disdain was echoed in Kiev’s central Independence Square, known as the ‘Maidan’, where protesters have set up a large encampment and held round-the-clock demonstrations since early December.

“No-one will leave the barricades until Yanukovich quits,” a protester on the square who gave her name as Irina, told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday.

Deaths

Along with Yanukovich’s resignation, protesters are also demanding early elections and the firing of authority figures responsible for violent police dispersals of demonstrators. The protests started after Yanukovich backed out of a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favour of receiving a $15 billion bailout from Russia, but quickly came to encompass a wide array of discontent over corruption, heavy-handed police and dubious courts.

Three demonstrators died in clashes with police last week, as harsh anti-protest laws that Yanukovich pushed through this month exacerbated the situation. Parliament voted on Tuesday to repeal those laws, but Yanukovich has yet to sign the measure.

The bill would not apply to several city buildings in the centre of Kiev, which act as key support facilities – dormitories and operation centres – for the extensive encampment on the main square. With temperatures dropping as low as -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, continuing the protests without shelter would be virtually impossible.

But the Kiev city hall building, as well as regional administration ones seized by protesters in western Ukrainian cities, would have to be vacated, according to the Unian news agency.

Change of tack

Given how the violent dispersal of demonstrators in December only worsened the Kiev protests and how the new laws spread discontent outside the capital, Yanukovich now appears to be seeking measures to mollify the opposition.

Along with proposing that parliament repeal the new laws, he has also accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, one of the figures most despised by the opposition. But there have been no signs of compromise on the root issues of the protests.

Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about dissension between radicals and moderates within the broad-based protest movement. Earlier on Wednesday, one group of protesters clashed with another in bid to free a government building that they had seized in Kiev. At least two people were injured.

Andriy Khoronets, an activist with the Svoboda party which represents more moderate protesters, tried to force members of the more militant Spilna Sprava group to vacate the Agriculture Ministry building as part of a compromise with the government.

“We must be seen as people who can fulfil one’s obligations,” Khoronets told AP outside the building. “There should be no anarchy.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the pressure on Yanukovich, saying Moscow would wait until Kiev forms a new government before fully implementing the $15 billion bailout deal earlier promised. Russia also tightened border checks on imports from Ukraine in what looked like a reminder to Yanukovich not to install a government that tilts policy back towards the West.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-30

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