Ukraine president suspends officials over protest crackdown
In a conciliatory move toward protesters, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has suspended his deputy security council chief and the head of the Kyiv city administration for their suspected involvement in a violent police crackdown on demonstrators last month.
Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka announced Saturday that the two officials Volodymyr Syvkovych and Oleksandr Popov, as well as the then-head of Kyiv police and his deputy, are being investigated for allegedly exceeding their authority in connection with the crackdown.
The incident occurred in the early hours of November 30, when police used force to disperse a pro-European Union rally in Kyiv.
Mass anti-government protests have overtaken the capital for more than three weeks since President Yanukovych decided not to sign a long-awaited trade pact with the EU in an attempt to avoid losing trade with Russia.
Ukraine’s opposition leaders are calling for a new mass protest in Kyiv on Sunday, while supporters of Yanukovych are also planning a demonstration just a kilometer away.
On Saturday, thousands of government supporters rallied in the capital, where Prime Minister Mykola Azarov addressed the crowd.
Members of the opposition held direct talks with President Yanukovych Friday for the first time in more than three weeks of mass anti-government protests.
But opposition leaders emerged from the meeting, which included other political and civil society representatives, saying the president failed to meet their demands.
Among other things, the head of the Udar, or “Punch,” party — Vitaly Klitschko — and Ukraine’s other main opposition leaders are calling for the release of jailed protesters.
The Ukrainian president has proposed amnesty for those arrested in the protests. But that was not enough for the opposition, which called for Yanukovych and his government to step down.
U.S. Senators John McCain, a leading Republican, and Chris Murphy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s Europe subcommittee, will visit Ukraine on Sunday for talks with government officials, opposition and civil society leaders.
Aides said Friday that senators issued a resolution calling for the United States to consider sanctions in case there is further violence against peaceful demonstrators.
The measure, which would be subject to approval by the Senate, said President Barack Obama’s administration and the U.S. Congress should consider sanctions, including visa bans and assets freezes, against anyone responsible for the violence.