Ukraine Protesters Hold Firm as U.S., EU Step up Diplomacy
Kiev – About 2,000 pro-Europe protesters huddled by braziers in their main tented camp in snowbound Kiev on Tuesday, in defiance of riot police who herded them away from government buildings overnight. Dozens of riot police removed barricades leading to the presidency, cabinet offices and parliament. But the demonstrators, who reject President Viktor Yanukovich’s policy lurch towards Russia, have regrouped at Independence Square in central Kiev, where they have set up a makeshift tent village.
With the crisis weighing on an economy already on the brink of bankruptcy, the cost of insuring Ukrainian debt rose to the highest in four years on Tuesday, and bond prices fell sharply. Yanukovich is due to hold talks with three former Ukrainian presidents to try and find a basis for wider talks involving the opposition parties.
In a flurry of diplomacy highlighting the struggle between East and West over Ukraine, which scrapped a trade pact with Europe last month and opted to rebuild ties with Moscow instead, U.S. assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland flew to Kiev. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was also due to arrive later on Tuesday and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Yanukovich by telephone.
Nuland went to see leaders of the three main opposition parties, the opposition said. Other details of her program and whether she would meet Yanukovich were not immediately known. Demonstrators had feared the arrival of the riot police on Monday heralded a plan to crush the protests, but there was none of the violence seen a week earlier, when dozens of protesters were wounded in clashes.
Ilya Shutov, an ex-miner from the eastern city of Donetsk, said the protesters would stay until Yanukovich left office. “We were for the EU association agreement because we thought it would force our authorities to be civilized. Their refusal of Europe is a refusal to be civilized,” he said. “Our goal is to get rid of the Soviet-like authorities.” (Reuters)