As protests rage in the Ukrainian capital and other cities, three of the country’s former presidents have given their support to the demonstrators and warned the tensions could be spinning into an uncontainable crisis.
Separately, the head of the Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights body, met with government officials and opposition members to try to persuade them to enter into dialogue, but said many in Ukraine are resistant to compromise.
A solution to the crisis has not been found. The crisis is deepening and we see risks of losing control over the situation.
The head of Ukraine’s police ordered his officers not to use force against peaceful demonstrators, a statement indicating that officials are aware of how the club-swinging dispersal of protesters this week galvanised already strong anger over the president’s shelving of a long-awaited pact with the European Union.
Thousands rallied again on Wednesday night on Kiev’s central square – where protesters have erected barricades on feeder streets – and other demonstrators were blocking the cabinet of ministers, a show of determination to press their demands for the government to step down.
But the government is showing no sign of yielding and a resolution remained elusive.
In a statement released to Ukrainian news agencies, Ukraine’s first three post-Soviet leaders said “we express solidarity with the peaceful civil actions of hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians.”
“However, a solution to the crisis has not been found. The crisis is deepening and we see risks of losing control over the situation,” said the statement from Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko.
Council of Europe head Thorbjorn Jagland said after his meeting with opposition figures and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov that “we are trying to find out whether and how a dialogue can be established. But I have also seen that too many are focusing on how to aggravate the situation.'”
He did not specify if the aggravators were among officials, protest leaders or fringe elements.
‘Defending 46 million people’
Opposition leaders remained vehement.
“The blockade of administrative offices will continue,” Oleh Tyanhybok, head of the nationalist Svoboda party, said.
Azarov urged the opposition to end its blockade of government buildings and warned the western regions of the country – where protest strikes were announced – that they may be left without federal funding.
Azarov survived a chaotic no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday. Law enforcement bodies have brought dozens of charges against demonstrators, and nine people remain in detention following Sunday’s rally, when several hundred thousand protested Yanukovych’s decision and the use of force against a handful of peaceful demonstrators at an earlier protest.
“We must decide all this in a calm environment. Not in the streets, but in a responsible dialogue,” Azarov told a Cabinet meeting.
Demonstrators have set up scores of tents on Kiev’s Independence Square and blocked several streets leading to it with tall barricades of wooden pallets and random material. Large piles of wood dot the square, fuel for fires that keep the demonstrators warm in the freezing temperatures.
“We are now defending … 46 million people. Either they will defeat us, or we will defeat them,” opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told reporters.
Last month, Yanukovych’s government abruptly halted preparations to sign the key political and economic agreement with the EU and focus on ties with Russia instead. Russia has used strong economic pressure to derail the deal, unwilling to lose the former part of its empire to the West.