Ukraine's ex-president to testify from Russia on killing of protesters

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2016 6:42 AM

By Pavel Polityuk and Jack Stubbs

KIEV/ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - Ex-president Viktor Yanukovich will be questioned as a witness on Friday by a Ukrainian court trying police officers accused of killing demonstrators during the protests in Kiev that forced him to flee in 2014.

Yanukovich has lived in Russia since escaping Kiev in the final days of the uprising, which installed a pro-European leadership and lit the fuse for Moscow's annexation of Crimea and a separatist conflict in the mainly Russian-speaking east. He will testify by video-link from Rostov-on-Don.

More than 100 demonstrators were killed in the three months of street protests in Kiev's Maidan square - 48 allegedly gunned down by police snipers who Ukrainian authorities say received direct orders from the Moscow-backed Yanukovich.

Yanukovich is himself being investigated on suspicion of mass murder linked to the deaths, but the current trial is of five 'Berkut' riot police accused of carrying out the shooting. They have pleaded 'not guilty', and Yanukovich has denied any involvement.

Three years on from the start of the protests, nobody has yet been held accountable for the deaths - an additional pressure on the authorities' public approval ratings, which have been driven down by the patchiness of efforts to root out corruption and galvanize the economy.

"The authorities haven't been doing anything to make sense of what happened on Maidan and I think that, even now, they don't feel the need. The mood is one of disappointment in practically everything," said a 37-year-old business-owner who gave her name only as Lana, walking near the courthouse.

A small crowd of demonstrators, some clad in camouflage and waving nationalist flags, gathered outside the jail where the officers were being held. Their signs read: "Prison for the Murderers."

General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said the Kremlin had allowed Yanukovich to be cross-examined merely as a public relations stunt, insisting that the testimony coincide with the third anniversary of the protests.

"They have brought the whole Kremlin media machine to Rostov," he wrote on Facebook. "I personally see this event as another PR campaign about the 'illegitimate Kiev junta'," he said, noting that Yanukovich had been called by the defense.

Moscow says the 2013/14 uprising was orchestrated by the West and questions the legitimacy of the post-Yanukovich leadership in Kiev.

It was outrage over Yanukovich's decision to ditch a European Union association agreement in favor of closer ties with Moscow, as well as frustration with state-sponsored corruption, that brought people onto the streets in November 2013.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Kevin Liffey)