Thousands of protesters call for political change in Ukraine
The Ukrainian parliament has rejected an opposition motion to hold a no-confidence vote on the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, after days of protests over Ukraine’s failure to sign a free trade pact with the European Union.
Tuesday’s decision came as thousands of protesters gathered outside the country’s parliament building in Kyiv, calling for revolution.
President Viktor Yanukovych, who refused to sign the free trade pact, has left the country on a trip to China for a state visit.
On Monday, protesters blocked access to the country’s main government buildings in Kyiv. A day earlier, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the capital, with some 200 injured after some marchers tried to storm a government building. Police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
Prime Minister Azarov has said the protests were “out of control” and had “all the signs of a coup.” But Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said that early elections are the only way to end the standoff.
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the violence by Ukrainian authorities against protesters in Kyiv was “unacceptable.” He said the United States certainly does not consider peaceful protests a coup attempt.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties in Ukraine to show restraint, avoid violence and open meaningful dialogue.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also called for restraint by both sides. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key backer of Yanukovych, said the protests in Ukraine looked more like “pogroms than a revolution.”
The demonstrations have been growing since November 21 when the Ukrainian president backed out of the EU trade deal, saying the country needed to continue close ties with Russia.
European news reports say the EU-Ukraine deal began unraveling in late October when Moscow demanded that cash-strapped Kyiv immediately make full payment of a nearly $1 billion natural gas bill, or face a gas cutoff as winter hits the region.
(Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov. Photo: nato.int)