Protesters wave their weapons as they guard a barricade from provocateurs during a protest in Kiev.
KIEV: Anti-government protesters in Ukraine readied for fresh mass demonstrations today after embattled President Viktor Yanukovich jetted back to protest-hit Kiev following private talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The late Friday tete-a-tete on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi came amid intensifying pressure from the opposition on Yanukovich to cede some of his broad powers and appoint a new pro-Western government.
Neither Russian nor Ukrainian officials disclosed the details of the two leaders’ conversation except to say that it was brief and held at Sochi’s Fisht stadium where the Games’ opening ceremony was held. “There was no official bilateral meeting. That was not a part of (the president’s) programme,” a Ukrainian administration spokesman said by telephone. Yanukovich had been expected to discuss with Putin the fate of a $15bn Russian bailout whose delivery has been effectively frozen pending the formation of a new government.
The ex-Soviet nation of 46 million was thrown into its worst crisis since independence in November when Yanukovich ditched an historic EU pact under Russian pressure in a stunning reversal that sparked deadly protests.
The sustained demonstrations that followed have since then played out as a titanic struggle for the country’s future between Russia and the West.
Today’s protest is set to start at 10:00 GMT on Kiev’s Independence Square with prayers from religious leaders backing the demonstrations.
Yanukovich must now decide whether to submit to protesters’ demands by taking a more conciliatory approach toward a new agreement with the European Union — a possibility that prompted Russia to suspend its loan after issuing just one instalment of $3bn in December. But Ukraine’s tattered economy is in ever-growing need of assistance amid sliding domestic production and dwindling foreign reserves.
Leading Ukrainian lawmakers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss opposition proposals to slash presidential powers and return to a constitution the country had until 2010 that granted extended powers to parliament.
Yanukovich has signalled that he welcomes a discussion of the changes without committing himself to the reform. AFP