Ukraine’s opposition leaders were due to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday to discuss the country’s ongoing political crisis.
The meeting comes one day after President Viktor Yanukovich, who is on sick leave, signed two measures into law – one repealing a controversial bill restricting acts of protest, and another granting demonstrators amnesty – in an effort to appease the opposition. The concessions had little impact, however, in light of the reappearance of a leading opposition activist who claimed to have been crucified by his captors.
The activist, Dmytro Bulatov, reemerged Thursday night, more than a week after he first vanished. His face swollen and caked in blood, Bulatov said that his abductors had cut off his ear and driven nails through his hands before dumping him in a snowy forest.
"They crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face," he said in televised remarks.
Bulatov’s story sparked immediate outrage both in Ukraine and abroad. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the United States was "appalled" at the "obvious signs of torture".
European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton echoed the White House’s statement, while Amnesty International said the "barbaric" act should be immediately investigated.
Ashton said she would return next week to Ukraine, condemning what she described as instances of intimidation and torture against the opposition.
Ukraine's interior ministry was reported by Interfax as saying Bulatov would be placed under house arrest for a week under suspicion of organising major unrest.
Ukraine has been gripped by political crisis ever since November, when Yanukovich backed out of a trade agreement with the European Union, negotiating a $15 billion financial agreement with Russia instead. Protests against the government, however, have become increasingly violent in recent weeks, with opposition leaders alleging widespread abuse.
Opposition leaders seek international support
The opposition’s leaders, including boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, were due to sit down with Kerry on Saturday for the first time to discuss the crisis. The talks are sure to infuriate Russia, which has warned against foreign interference in Ukraine.
The announcement of the meeting, which will take place on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, came as the White House said it was consulting with Congress over possible sanctions on Ukraine.
FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports on Ukraine political crisis from Kiev
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition’s three main leaders, met with German President Joachim Gauck and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Friday, whom he said had voiced support of his people's "fight for freedoms and liberties". Yatsenyuk also sat down with the EU's Ashton in a separate meeting.
Meanwhile, rating firm Moody's downgraded Ukraine's sovereign debt rating a notch, citing the escalating political crisis and concerns about whether it would continue to have Russian financial support.
Moody's cut the country's rating, already in speculative territory, to Caa2 from Caa1, and put the country on "negative outlook," signalling it could be downgraded again in the medium term.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-01