Anti-government protesters attend a rally at Independence Square in central Kiev yesterday.
KIEV: Ukraine’s opposition yesterday called for international mediation and appealed for Western financial aid for the first time in their protests against President Viktor Yanukovich.
As tens of thousands of people rallied in Kiev, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko told the crowd he had requested “international mediation in our negotiations with Yanukovich so there are no misunderstandings”.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister, said: “We spoke to our Western partners and told them that we need real financial aid. “They are ready to do it. By ‘we’, I mean the Ukrainian people. Not a single kopeck should go to the Yanukovich regime,” he said.
Klitschko and Yatsenyuk both attended the Munich Security Conference on Saturday where Europe and the United States sparred over Ukraine with Russia, which has condemned Western pledges of support as interference.
Ukraine is struggling to break free of a painful recession and Russia has put on hold until a new government is formed a $15bn bailout package that has been propping up the economy.
Yanukovich’s office, meanwhile, said the president would be returning to work on Monday after a few days of sick leave due to “an acute respiratory infection”.
At the sprawling protest camp in Kiev that has been the epicentre for two months of protests that have spread across Ukraine, more than 60,000 people shouted their defiance against his rule yesterday. The opposition is pressing for more concessions from Yanukovich, including the immediate and unconditional release of all the scores of protesters arrested so far.
Klitschko said they were “hostages” and called for the scrapping of an amnesty law approved by Yanukovich last week that only allows the release if occupied official buildings are vacated within two weeks.
Yanukovich has over the past few days accepted the resignation of his prime minister and repealed the hugely controversial anti-protest laws that had radicalised the protest movement.
But the opposition still has a number of demands, including an overhaul of the constitution that would take away some of the president’s sweeping powers. The protest movement is also asking for a presidential election scheduled in 2015 to be brought forward to this year, while demonstrators in the streets want Yanukovich to resign immediately.
The 63-year-old leader “should resign along with parliament if he wants a peaceful resolution,” said Oksana Hodakivska, a dentist from the northwestern region of Zhytomyr, at the Kiev protest. Hodakivska said she did not hold out much hope for Western pressure on Yanukovich.
“EU officials can temporarily stop the violence when they visit Ukraine but they are not going to keep coming here. “It’s all in our hands,” she said. AFP