Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich returns to work on Monday after taking four days of sick leave. Yanukovich’s absence from office came amid heightened protests against his leadership despite some government concessions to the opposition.
The president suffered from what officials described as an "acute respiratory infection," prompting him to announce last Thursday that he was going on sick leave. The demonstrations have continued unabated, with thousands of protesters still camped out in the capital Kiev.
During his absence, opposition leaders pressed the West to mediate talks with Yanukovich to prevent potential “misunderstandings”. Several Western powers have expressed their deep concern over the ongoing unrest in Ukraine, but have yet to commit more than their verbal support to the issue.
The opposition has also requested "real financial aid" to help the country’s flagging economy.
Speaking to a protest rally of over 60,000 people on Sunday, one of the opposition’s main leaders and the country’s former economy minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Western powers had assured him that funding was on its way.
"They are ready to do it," he told the crowd.
Bulatov seeks medical treatment abroad
Meanwhile, a court in Kiev has allowed Dmytro Bulatov, a leading opposition activist who claims to have been tortured, to leave the country to seek medical treatment in Lithuania.
Bulatov, 35, vanished more than a week ago only to resurface last Thursday, his face swollen and caked with blood. He claimed that he had been “crucified” by his captors, who had cut off his ear and driven nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.
Images of his gruesome injuries were broadcast around the world, prompting international condemnation of his abuse.
Following the court’s ruling, Bulatov was rushed to the airport in an ambulance.
Ukrainian authorities, however, have cast doubt on the veracity of his story. Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara dismissed his injuries as "a scratch" before retracting the comment.
The opposition alleges that Bulatov’s case is an example of the widespread abuses and “secret repression” of protesters that is happening, claiming that such acts are carried out by hired pro-government vigilantes.
Ukraine has been gripped by political crisis since November, when Yanukovich backed out of a trade agreement with the European Union to negotiate a $15 billion financial aid agreement with Russia instead.
Protests against the government, however, have mounted in recent weeks, expanding beyond the capital into parts of the west and east, the latter of which is considered a bastion of support for Yanukovich.
Yanukovich has offered the opposition concessions, including the dismissal of the prime minister and the entire cabinet as well as the scrapping of draconian anti-protest laws.
But opposition leaders are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of activists detained during the demonstrations and for Yanukovich to announce early elections.
They also want a constitutional overhaul to take away the sweeping powers that Yanukovich has accumulated during his rule and give more authority to the government and parliament.
Yanukovich supporters – concentrated in the mainly Russian-speaking east – say the president was democratically elected in and should serve out his term until 2015.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-03