Ukraine government says it will not rule out early polls
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The Ukrainian government is prepared to discuss the possibility of early elections, the country’s deputy prime minister said Thursday, as protests against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to abandon a deal with the EU continue to rage.
The Ukraine government has not ruled out holding early elections as it seeks a solution to growing unrest over Kiev’s decision to abandon an accord with the European Union, the country’s deputy prime minister has said.
"We have to hold negotiations," said First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Arbuzov when asked by Ukrainian Channel 5 late Wednesday if he considers snap parliamentary and presidential elections a solution to the ongoing standoff by pro-EU demonstrators across the country.
"Then, when there are official proposals, (we have to) discuss them," he said.
Arbuzov, 37, is seen as a key member of the so-called "Family" of close allies of President Viktor Yanukovich who have a strong influence on the Ukrainian leader.
The United States on Thursday voiced its support for Ukraine’s pro-EU demonstrators and called on the government to listen to the wishes of its people.
"We stand with the people of Ukraine who see their future in Europe," US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said at the opening of the OSCE security meeting in Kiev. "We urge the Ukrainian government to listen to the voices of its people who want to live in freedom."
She added: "This is Ukraine's moment. To meet the aspirations of the people or to disappoint them and risk descending into chaos and violence."
Yanukovich’s decision last month to abruptly halt preparations to sign the key political and economic agreement with the EU and focus on ties with Russia instead has prompted two weeks of fierce protests in Kiev and several other Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian police on Thursday warned protesters that they were facing a "harsh" crackdown if they did not end their occupation of public offices in Kiev, while the prime minister denounced the demonstrators as "Nazis" and criminals.
"Nazis, extremists and criminals cannot be, in any way, our partners in 'Euro-integration'," said Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, according to the government’s website.
Thousands once again rallied at Kiev’s main Independence Square on Wednesday night – where protesters have erected barricades and set up scores of tents – in a show of determination to press their demands for the government to step down.
Former presidents back protesters
The government came under further pressure after a trio of former Ukrainian presidents voiced their support for the demonstrators and warned the tensions could be spinning into an uncontainable crisis.
In a statement released to Ukrainian news agencies Wednesday, Ukraine’s first three post-Soviet leaders said, “We express solidarity with the peaceful civil actions of hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians.”
“However, a solution to the crisis has not been found. The crisis is deepening and we see risks of losing control over the situation,” said the statement from Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko.
The Ukrainian government and security forces have come under fire for strong-arm tactics in breaking up protests in recent weeks, with riot police using tear gas and truncheons to force back demonstrators.
Anger is growing about the status of the nine demonstrators who were beaten and arrested at a rally on Sunday. Officials have said the action was in response to provocations by the demonstrators, but supporters of the arrested say radical nationalists were responsible.
Six of those arrested are in intensive care and three others are in jail medical units, their relatives told a news conference on Wednesday. They complained that the men have been denied adequate legal help.
On Thursday, European diplomats were preparing to hold a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the Ukrainian capital.
The OSCE's Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara met on the eve the meeting to discuss the crisis.
Zannier said he welcomed assurances from Kozhara that "Ukraine would respect citizens' right to peacefully protest and that recent incidents of excessive force were being investigated".
"Respect of fundamental rights, such as freedom of assembly, the right to free expression and giving journalists the liberty to do their work is essential to ensuring cohesive and secure societies," he said in a statement.
"All sides should enter dialogue peacefully and without resort to violence or other actions which prevent constructive engagement."
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
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