Friday, February 21, 2014

Ukraine's President Yanukovich Declares Early Elections, Constitutional Reforms

Ukraine's President Yanukovich declares early elections, constitutional reforms

Published time: February 21, 2014 10:54

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich has announced early presidential elections. He also said that the constitution of 2004, which limits presidential powers, will be returned. This was one of the main demands by the opposition.

Yanukovich also said he will start the process of creating a national unity government.

The government and the opposition leaders have been negotiating a deal throughout the night, following two days of violence that has seen 80 people killed. One of the conditions for the deal’s implementation is an end to the violence that has engulfed the country.

The Ukrainian constitution of 2004 limits the powers of the president and gives more authority to the parliament.

“I declare the initiation of early presidential elections. I also invoke a return to the Constitution of 2004 with the redistribution of powers in the direction of a parliamentary republic,” says the official statement on the presidential website.

“I summon to begin formation of the government of national trust,” declared the Ukrainian president.

Ukraine opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko, has told the German media outlet, Bild, that the united opposition is ready to sign a EU-brokered deal with Viktor Yanukovich, if the president agrees to continue talks with protesters.

"We will sign the deal," Klitschko told Bild as quoted by Reuters.

"We are prepared to do everything to obtain a peaceful solution. I told the German foreign minister I would personally appeal to protesters before signing," Klitschko said, adding that "All arguments must be considered before it comes to a signature."

The president’s ruling Party of Regions has spoken in favor of both presidential initiatives.

“We do support all the decisions of the president. This is a compromise solution,” MP Vladimir Oleinik told Itar-TASS news agency, adding that the parliamentary faction of the Party of Regions is going to vote in favor of the decision.

Oleinik stressed that such support is a step which was unimaginable yesterday, because it would have ended up with the formation of two governments, one by the president, another one by the parliament.

“That would be diarchy,” Oleinik said.

The governors of the western regions of Ukraine have come to the presidential administration in Kiev to elaborate a plan of ensuring the normal functioning of administrations in the given conditions of domestic political crisis.

“We are aiming at stopping the escalation of the conflict, ensuring public security, maintaining dialogue with the protesters, finding compromises and supporting the efficiency of emergency services,” a source in the presidential administration told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski commented on Friday that after President Yanukovich announced his readiness to hold early presidential elections, Ukraine was at a “delicate moment.”

Earlier the Ukrainian news outlet published the main details of the draft peace agreement between the Ukrainian authorities and the united opposition. The conciliation agreement was discussed yesterday by leaders of the united opposition and President Viktor Yanukovich.

The document specifies the major steps needed to be taken towards national reconciliation.

First and foremost it declares that the “constitutional takeover” of 2010 must be eliminated within 24 hours and the previous variant of the constitution adopted in 2004 must be returned. The document considers it necessary to “polish up” the 2004 constitution designed for the transition of Ukraine from a presidential form of government to a parliamentary one.

Formation of a new coalition government must be fulfilled within 10 days.

Official Kiev must undertake an obligation to conduct a joint investigation together with the EU of the “crimes against peaceful civilians” in downtown Kiev in December 2013 – February 2014 that took the lives of approximately 80 people.

Panic-stricken Ukrainians storm shops, banks and gas stations

Published time: February 21, 2014 11:56

Bloodshed on Independence Square (Maidan) and rumors of worst yet to come have prompted panic among Ukrainians, with many fleeing the country and those who stay emptying shop shelves, queuing for gasoline and making big cash withdrawals from banks.

The mood is a pre-war one in most Ukrainian cities, where people, afraid of the country falling deeper into economic paralysis, are trying to buy up as many essential foods and goods as they can. Fearing stampedes, some Kiev shops have started limiting the amount of shoppers at any one time.

Some shop-owners confess they are running out of stocks to refill the fast-emptying shelves, and new deliveries are not expected anytime soon amid the current turmoil.

Social media is swarming with pictures of over-crowded stores and scarce supplies.

“This is not a joke. No bread, no eggs, only expensive imported spaghetti left, huge lines and this is in a small local village shop,” Instagram user @iartemka says, adding up a #PrayForUkraine hashtag.

“People in the shops have gone mad. Huge queues, empty shelves,” Twitter user ‏@Helen_Marlen writes.

Kiev is witnessing a mass exodus. The number of those, who left the country this Thursday is reportedly twice as many as on the Thursday of the week before. Most people are heading for Odessa, Simferopol and Kharkov, the Ukrainian cities largely loyal to the government and less affected by the turmoil, according to Airticket UA, online travel agency, cited by The Kiev Times.

"Because of the instability in Ukraine I had to dismiss my employees and leave Kiev for Moscow with my family,” a Ukrainian entrepreneur told “I don’t think my firm will resume any activity before things get better in the country,”

With the local currency, the hryvnia, plunging to new lows with each ensuing day of the unrest, people are desperate to withdraw whatever money they can from their accounts. In many cities around Ukraine people are queuing for cash.

What is aggravating the situation is the fact that many shops have stopped accepting credit cards.

That creates fertile ground for rumors.

“They will freeze all of the accounts tomorrow, everybody’s withdrawing, people are fighting in banks,” an instagram user writes.

Banking experts are dismissing the rumors as absurd, but the people aren’t listening, preferring to get their cash out of the banks just to be on the safe side.

The shops and banks frenzy is accompanied by another one at the gas stations. Kilometer-long lines of cars can be seen waiting for fuel amid rumors of a gas shortage supply. The huge leap in demand for gas immediately led to an increase in its price.

While the panic has spread all over Ukraine, it is worst in Kiev, where fierce fighting continues. There are reports of shops being looted in the center.

Residents of the Ukrainian capital have meanwhile started forming self-defense brigades, patrolling their own houses.

"Criminals are walking around Kiev, we must defend our own neighborhoods,” Nikita, an activist from the Dneprovsky district of the capital told Ukrainian online magazine “Vesti”.

Kiev's Maidan in surreal 'Before & After' images

Published time: February 20, 2014 20:19

The blackened ruins and gaping windows of Ukraine’s landmark Independence Square have left Kiev looking like a warzone for the first time since WWII. The square has always served as a main stage for Ukrainian politics – but not a literal battleground.

Featured on every postcard, the grandiose post-war complex of monuments has been the true – if slightly touristy – heart of Kiev.

But now, the square is divided by ad hoc barricades built from paving stones, wooden debris, and tires. The iconic Trade Union building, which has served as the protesters' headquarters, was set on fire earlier this week and is now just a shell, after its floors and walls collapsed one by one.

In contrast to the normal, everyday hustle and bustle, the square is currently filled with hastily-appointed leaders deciding who mans the entrances and who is responsible for food and barricade building. But regardless of security measures, people in the area are an easy target for snipers lurking in the buildings that surround the square from all sides.

Police dressed in riot gear are stationed several blocks away, taking turns between sitting in their vehicles and patrolling the perimeter. Journalists with the world 'PRESS' written on their jackets float between the two sides, but find themselves in the crossfire once skirmishes begin.

Once the conflict ends, the square will have to be rebuilt. It may be more difficult to do the same with the country that surrounds it.

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