President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich made a bid to hang onto power by promising to restructure the government. Thus on Friday an uneasy truce settled over Ukraine with the president agreeing to announce a new government on or shortly before 29 January. President Yanukovich also promised European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that Ukraine will not declare a state of emergency to end the protests.
In meetings with opposition and church leaders, Mr. Yanukovich pledged to “do everything to stop this conflict, to stop violence and establish stability.” He warned however that violence was not the way to reach a peaceful solution and said, “If we manage to stop radicals amicably, we will stop them amicably. Otherwise we will use all legal methods provided for by the laws of Ukraine. Anyway it is for the sake of people. There is no other way.”
Prime Minister Azarov, an ethnic Russian, had pledged to step down and dissolve his cabinet if requested and apparently President Yanukovich is close to accepting his offer.
Protests were renewed after the government reneged on its promise not to prosecute citizens who had demonstrated in late December and early January. The government then passed a law effectively outlawing public demonstrations and severely curtailing the Constitutional rights of citizens to assemble in public.
By Thursday demonstrations had spread to other parts of Ukraine, mainly Western areas which favour closer ties with Europe instead of Russia. In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv hundreds of protesters stormed the office of regional governor Oleh Salo, forcing him to pen a letter of resignation.
Opposition leaders say that President Yanukovich must fire Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet and that he must set a date for new presidential elections. Prime Minister Azarov has left the country to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Already there seems to be movement on the question of EU integration as Yanukovich told reporters on Friday that he remained committed to the idea of European integration. “Let’s take a break and understand the plan and terms under which we will sign the Association Agreement.”
One certainty is that this protest galvanized citizens across generational gaps. While the country continues to be divided into East versus West, it is no longer also a matter of young versus old.
Special riot police called Беркут (Berkut), continue to round up stray protesters for arrest. Citizens claim that those arrested are mistreated, even to the point of being stripped and forced out in the elements to pose naked for photographs. The government has denied the claims, but…
In any country, citizens often cling to false hope about how police and military troops will react in a crisis. With rare exceptions, they are professionals and trained to follow orders, therefore they act according to their training. It is obvious the police/troops have taken sides and now both sides hate the other. In many arrests, and this is easily confirmed with video in our possession, the police have shaved the heads of protesters and painted the Ukrainian term for “slave” (Раб) on the foreheads of those arrested.
The government and opposition are conducting talks. We can pray that this will bring about a positive resolution.
Until then, we wait…