Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Think the Unthinkable

The BBC does a great job of reporting and summarising the momentous events in the Ukraine where the Prime Minister and the Government have just resigned - after being forced to repeal an emergency law aimed at outlawing popular protest in the streets.

Whether the protesters can turn these developments into a stable and long-term political settlement remains to be seen, but as David Stern says in his report from the Ukranian capital, Kiev, two weeks ago the fall of the Government would have been unthinkable. 

Ukraine's PM Azarov and government resign

Protesters in Kiev say they are in no hurry to leave, despite the protest laws being annulled, as Duncan Crawford reports

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet amid continuing anti-government protests.

Mykola Azarov had offered to step down as prime minister to create "social and political compromise".

The move came after the Ukrainian parliament voted overwhelmingly to annul a controversial anti-protest law.

The protests have spread in recent days across Ukraine, even to President Yanukovych's stronghold in the east.

Official buildings in several cities have been occupied.

Tuesday saw the interior ministry report that three protesters had stabbed and wounded three policemen in the southern city of Kherson, one of whom later died.

In total, at least five people have been killed in violence linked to the protests.

Parliament - holding an emergency debate on the crisis - voted by 361 to 2 to repeal the protest legislation, which among other measures banned the wearing of helmets by protesters and the blockading of public buildings.

The law had helped fuel the demonstrations which began in Independence Square in the capital, Kiev, after Mr Yanukovych pulled out of a planned trade deal with the European Union last November in favour of a $15bn (£9bn) bailout from Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at an EU-Russia summit in Brussels, said all the agreements reached with Mr Azarov would remain in place despite the resignation even if the opposition formed the next government.

The loan was to "support the people of Ukraine, not the government. It's the people, the common people that suffer", he told a news conference after talks with EU leaders.

MPs had applauded in parliament as the result of the annulment vote was announced.

There was a similar response in Kiev's Independence Square, which remains the focal point of the demonstrations.

A BBC correspondent who went to the square described it as relatively quiet with no sign of the recent violence which has affected parts of central Kiev.

Parliament adjourned after the vote on the protest law and discussions on the issue of granting an amnesty to convicted protesters proved inconclusive.

Mr Yanukovych had offered an amnesty only if protesters cleared barricades and stopped attacking government buildings.
Anti-government protests continue in Kiev and across Ukraine
Riot police have clashed violently with protesters on many occasions since the demonstrations began

In his resignation statement, Prime Minister Azarov said: "To create additional opportunities for social and political compromise and for a peaceful solution to the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the president of Ukraine to accept my resignation as prime minister of Ukraine."

The government had "done everything to ensure the peaceful resolution of the conflict" and would do "everything possible to prevent bloodshed, an escalation of violence, and violation of citizen's rights", he said.

The BBC's David Stern, in Kiev, says that two weeks ago, Mr Azarov's resignation would have been unthinkable.

Despite the president accepting their resignations, the cabinet can remain in their posts for 60 days until a new government is formed.

President Yanukovych had already offered Mr Azarov's job to the opposition at the weekend, proposing that Fatherland leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk take the post. Mr Yatsenyuk declined the offer.

Meanwhile, top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton has brought forward a planned visit to Ukraine by 48 hours and will now arrive on Tuesday for meetings with Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

She said she was "alarmed" by reports on Monday that the government was preparing to introduce a state of emergency. Officials have denied any such plan.

Baroness Ashton arrives from Brussels after attending the EU-Russia summit.

After meeting Mr Putin at the summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: "The European Union is closely following the events in Ukraine and strongly condemns violence.

"We call for restraint and those responsible to be held to account."

Parliament voted to abandon a law it passed just two weeks ago
Outside parliament, Yanukovych supporters held a demonstration condemning the protests

In a statement, Mykola Azarov said he had taken "a very difficult, but a responsible decision"


David Stern
BBC News, Kiev

Ukraine's months-old protest movement against President Yanukovych's government will not end suddenly because of the repeal of the controversial "anti-protest" law or Prime Minister Azarov's resignation.

But they are a definite sign that tectonic plates in the country's political landscape have started to shift. Where there was once deadlock, now there is movement.

It isn't clear where the shifting will end up: This is only the first tremor. The law's repeal returns Ukraine pretty much to status quo ante. Much also depends on who replaces Mr Azarov, when he takes office and how much latitude Mr Yanukovych will allow him.

The country's three opposition leaders are suspicious of Mr Yanukovych. The protesters on the street are distrustful of the lot of them. But for the moment, Mr Azarov is on his way out. Two months ago - actually two weeks ago - that would have been unthinkable.

Key dates
  • 21 Nov 2013: Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU
  • 30 Nov: Riot police detain dozens of anti-government protesters in a violent crackdown in Kiev
  • 17 Dec: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country
  • 16 Jan 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest
  • 22 Jan: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities
  • 25 Jan: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected
  • 28 Jan: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet