Klitschko warns Ukrainian tempers are heating up

AP News
Posted: Feb 04, 2014 12:10 PM

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian opposition leaders warned Tuesday that tempers are heating up and the president must take action to resolve the country's protracted political crisis.

Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion who is one of the top figures in Ukraine's mass protests, met Tuesday with President Viktor Yanukovych as parliament held a session but took no action.

Over two months of intense protests have put Yanukovych under substantial pressure. But he has made no moves to work with the opposition since last week, when he pushed parliament to pass a measure providing amnesty to many arrested protesters if demonstrators vacate buildings they occupy.

Protesters rejected that condition and continue to seek Yanukovych's resignation and an early election.

"The temperature of society is growing and I told the president we have to immediately take a decision," Klitschko said after the meeting.

Another top protest figure, Oleh Tyahnybok, echoed his warning.

"I say it now: if they ignore the street, it means the street will react to this," Tyahnybok said.

Protests that began in late November have drawn substantial crowds to downtown Kiev, sometimes numbering above 100,000 people, and an extensive protest tent camp has been set up on the capital's main square. The protests turned violent in mid-January when demonstrators clashed with police for four days, raining stones and firebombs on riot police and setting their vehicles afire.

The clashes subsided after three protesters died, at least two of them of gunshot wounds, but protesters have set up lines of high barricades at the clash site and the potential renewal of violence appears strong.

At first protesters were angry that Yanukovych rejected a deal with the 28-nation European Union in favor of accepting a $15 billion bailout from Russia. Now they are demanding more human rights and less corruption in their nation of 45 million.

With no new initiatives to resolve the tensions, it was unclear if the authorities were deploying a strategy of attrition, hoping the protests will wear themselves out.

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There was no sign of quick movement on one of the opposition's demands — a return to the former constitutional division of powers that gave more influence to the prime minister and legislature. Parliament had been expected to take it up on Tuesday, but speaker Vladimir Rybak said no proposal had been put on the agenda.

In 2004, presidential powers were reduced in a compromise during the Orange Revolution, the mass protests against fraud in the presidential election that Yanukovych reportedly won. He was defeated in a rerun of that vote, but won election in 2010. Several months later, the Constitutional Court reversed the 2004 changes, a move whose legality has been widely questioned.

The dissatisfaction with Yanukovych has spread out from Kiev, with demonstrations throughout the pro-EU western half of the country and sporadically into the Russia-leaning east, which is Yanukovych's support base.