Ukraine president seeks to defuse crisis, calls for early elections
KIEV, Ukraine -- Embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich acknowledged the opposition’s victory Friday by initiating early presidential and parliamentary elections and a plan to form a coalition government.
“In these tragic days when Ukraine suffered such heavy losses, when people died on both sides of the barricades, I consider it my duty in solemn memory of the slain to state that there is nothing more important than human life,” Yanukovich said in a statement published on his official website after a meeting with opposition leaders in Kiev.
“There are no such steps which we ought not to take together to restore peace in Ukraine.”
Among the steps Yanukovich named were early elections for president and parliament, the reduction of presidential powers in favor of parliament and the formation of a coalition government.
“As president of Ukraine and guarantor of the constitution, I am fulfilling today my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before Lord God for the sake of preserving the state, in the name of preserving human lives, in the name of peace and calm on our soil,” read the statement. It provided no details on how and when the proposed measures would be implemented.
The announcement came on the first peaceful day this week, after the most violent week in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine in which more than 100 people were killed, most of them protesters, and hundreds were injured in Kiev and across the country.
On Thursday, the Supreme Rada, or national parliament, voted to outlaw the so-called anti-terrorist operation declared earlier in the week by the national Security Service. Parliament also barred law enforcement officers from using firearms and confined them to barracks.
As reduced forces of riot police continued to protect key government buildings, protesters fortified new barricades in Grushevsky Street and around Independence Square in central Kiev.
“Yanukovich’s word is worth nothing with us,” said Alexander Chekmaz, a 38-year-old lawyer from the city of Mykolayev, dressed in a camouflage suit with a military helmet and club while manning an opposition checkpoint in Grushevsky Street.
“Yanukovich has deceived many times before, so we will only believe him when he steps down.”
Opposition leader and former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko expressed impatience with the lack of specifics in Yanukovich’s statement.
“We must do everything to schedule early presidential elections,” he said after the meeting with Yanukovich. “What is happening now in the streets does not leave us any time to contemplate. We have to take a decision immediately.”
But Alexander Yefremov, leader of the ruling party faction in parliament, told Interfax that the agreement between the president and the opposition provides for a September vote on the required changes in the constitution and for new elections in December.
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