[December 04, 2013]KIEV (Reuters) — Ukraine's embattled prime
minister Mykola Azarov warned protesters on Wednesday they would be
punished if they broke the law after he marshalled his ministers for a
cabinet meeting despite an attempted blockade by demonstrators.
With a crisis over the government's rejection of closer ties with
the European Union piling pressure on the creaking economy, one of
Azarov's deputies departed for Moscow for talks including on Russian
natural gas, for which Kiev is urgently seeking lower prices.
Tension stayed high in Kiev as black-helmeted riot police sealed off
the approach road to the main offices of President Viktor
Yanukovich, confronting several hundred protesters from behind steel
Protesters had threatened to tighten their blockade of key buildings
in Kiev on Wednesday. Yanukovich himself flew to China on Tuesday,
leaving behind a country in turmoil over his government's policy
U-turn. Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Yanukovich was in Xian
where he was due to visit the Terracotta Warriors archaeological
site and an aircraft factory.
The crisis has exposed once more the East-West tug-of-war playing
out in Ukraine, which has oscillated between the EU and former
master Moscow since the 2004-5 Orange Revolution overthrew the
post-Soviet political order.
Azarov's government survived an attempt to topple it in parliament
on Tuesday in a rough encounter with opposition parties at which he
apologized for police heavy-handedness in which scores of people
But after Azarov and his ministers assembled for a cabinet meeting
on Wednesday, he had recovered his poise and warned demonstrators
not to take their action too far.
Azarov also said the government had demonstrated tolerance and a
readiness for dialogue during the protests and he urged all
political forces to avoid a further escalation of tension.
"Everybody must realize that the country's constitution and laws are
in force, nobody is allowed to violate them ... All those who are
guilty of illegal acts will answer for them," he said.
International markets kept up the pressure, driving the cost of
insuring Ukrainian debt against default to a level not seen since
January 2010. Ukraine faces gas bills and debt repayments next year
of more than $17 billion.
Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Boiko departed for Moscow on Wednesday
for talks on bilateral issues including natural gas, the Interfax
news agency reported, citing a source in Ukraine's government.
Azarov implored opposition leaders on Tuesday not to try a repeat of
2004-5, when "Orange revolution" mass protests overturned a
fraudulent election won by Yanukovich.
Trying to defuse protests, the government has defended its policy
move by saying that this is only a "pause" in the moves to integrate
further with Europe, rather than an about-turn.
As if to underscore this point on Wednesday, he announced
delegations were heading to both Brussels and Moscow very soon.
FOOD, CLOTHING HANDOUTS
The United States weighed into the crisis on Tuesday.
"We urge the Ukrainian government to listen to the voices of its
people who want to live in freedom and in opportunity and
prosperity," Secretary of State John Kerry said in Brussels.
"We urge all sides to conduct themselves peacefully. Violence has no
place in a modern European state."
About 350,000 Ukrainians massed in Kiev on Sunday in protest at the
government's decision, under Russian pressure, to spurn the pact on
closer trade relations with the EU, dismayed at what many of them
saw as a defining rejection of Western integration in favor of
deeper ties with Moscow.
Thousands are manning barricades made of plywood, park benches and
the branches of an artificial Christmas tree around Kiev's
Independence Square, epicenter of the Orange Revolution.
At Kiev's city hall, now an organizational hub for protesters who
have occupied the building since Sunday, people dozed on the second
floor while others passed through the revolving doors for handouts
of food and warm clothing, as the harsh Ukrainian winter just begins
Hundreds of protesters, bearing the national flag or the standard of
opposition political parties, rallied on Wednesday near official
buildings, but found many routes blocked by vehicles which interior
ministry forces had stationed across streets and approach roads.
"We don't like this government, young people in Ukraine want to join
Europe. We want to be able to study and work freely in Europe, that
is where Ukraine's future lies," said Christina Yavorskaya, 21, a
student from the Chernobyl district in western Ukraine. "We want
European salaries, a European way of life. There is no future with
"There is a chance of getting these bandits out of office. And as
long as there is that chance, we'll be standing here," said Misha
Skoropad, 38, who came on a bus from the western city of Lviv to
protest near the presidential headquarters.
Yanukovich, a rough-hewn former electrician from Ukraine's
Russian-speaking East, is due to stay in China until December 6,
seeking loans and investment to head off a debt crisis.
His departure appeared to be a gesture of confidence that order
could be maintained at home.
The opposition is a loose alliance of political factions ranging
from pro-EU liberals to hardline nationalists, without a galvanizing
figure in the mould of Yulia Tymoshenko, who co-led the Orange
Revolution but was jailed for abuse of power after Yanukovich became
Some analysts see Vitaly Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing world
champion and now leader of the opposition Udar (Punch) party,
emerging from the pack, though he is largely untested.
"The Orange Revolution laid the foundation for this," said
self-employed businessman Yegor Kitov, 45.
"But this movement is stronger because, while then it was political
parties that were organizing the people, now we are organizing
Richard Balmforth and Thomas Grove]
(Additional reporting by Gareth Jones in
Kiev, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Steve Gutterman in Mosocw;
editing by Gareth Jones and David Stamp)