News / Europe

Ukraine Frees Last of Jailed Protesters

Anti-government demonstrators hold a rally in front of the General Prosecutor Office demanding the release of detained protesters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 14, 2014.
Anti-government demonstrators hold a rally in front of the General Prosecutor Office demanding the release of detained protesters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 14, 2014.
TEXT SIZE - +
VOA News
Ukraine has freed the last of the 243 protesters arrested since anti-government demonstrations began in November.

The release was part of a law passed last month to free the demonstrators from police custody. But criminal charges will only be dropped when the demonstrators stop occupying government buildings.

Opposition activists say they will stop blocking a main road leading to public buildings in the capital, Kyiv. But they made no mention of when they would leave the the buildings.

President Viktor Yanukovich's government has fixed Monday as the deadline for all occupied municipal buildings to be cleared of protesters and barricades to be removed from city center roads in the capital Kyiv in exchange for the release of the detainees and a possible future pardon.
    
Barricades built at the site of recent clashes with riot police are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 13, 2014.Barricades built at the site of recent clashes with riot police are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 13, 2014.
x
Barricades built at the site of recent clashes with riot police are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 13, 2014.
Barricades built at the site of recent clashes with riot police are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 13, 2014.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf calls the release of the protesters an important step to de-escalate tension in Ukraine and move towards a peaceful solution to the country's crisis.

Yanukovich negotiated the amnesty offer through parliament to try to take the sting out of street protests in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine that have kept him on the back-foot since he spurned a trade pact with the European Union in November, in favor of closer ties to Russia.
    
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised Ukraine a $15-billion aid package when a new government is in place, even if it is run by the opposition.

With much of downtown Kyiv a fortified camp where hundreds of "Euro-maidan" activists keep up protests behind barricades and sandbags, Yanukovich wants to tamp down tension before he picks a new prime minister, possibly as early as next week.

With protesters highly suspicious about virtually any offer from Yanukovich's side, however, there seemed little chance of them relinquishing control of the streets by next week, though they said late on Friday that they might allow traffic to pass on the main road leading to government headquarters.
    
General prosecutor Viktor Pshonka said on Friday authorities would immediately begin considering dropping charges if buildings were cleared and key roads in the capital re-opened by Monday. But opposition parties and radical protesters, who clashed violently with police last month, said they wanted all charges dropped immediately.
    
"We have people being released from jail but kept under house arrest, that is to say they are deprived of their rights, and there is a criminal case hanging over each one of them. This is not an amnesty. This does not meet the conditions of the opposition," Rostislav Pavlenko, a member of opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko's party, Udar (Punch), was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency Interfax.
    
At least six people have been killed in clashes with riot police - unprecedented in the 22 years since Ukraine gained independence - since thousands of protesters rebelled against Yanukovich's sudden move to snub the EU in favor of forging closer economic ties with former Soviet master Russia.

East-West rivalry

The crisis has triggered a geopolitical tussle between East and West: Russia is beckoning Yanukovich with a $15 billion aid package to plug holes in Ukraine's heavily-indebted economy while the United States and its Western allies have urged him to move back towards an IMF-backed deal with Europe.
    
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a news conference in Moscow, Feb. 14, 2014.Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a news conference in Moscow, Feb. 14, 2014.
x
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a news conference in Moscow, Feb. 14, 2014.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a news conference in Moscow, Feb. 14, 2014.
The East-West rivalry flared anew on Friday when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meeting Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Moscow, accused the EU of seeking to create a "sphere of influence" on its borders.
    
"Dragging Ukraine to one side, telling it that it needs to choose 'either or', either with the EU or with Russia, (the European Union) is in fact trying to create such a sphere of influence," Lavrov said.
    
There have been no street violence in Kyiv for three weeks.
    
But Western governments are worried about an escalation of conflict and breakdown of law and order unless Yanukovich meets opposition demands to allow them to form a government that could act independently of him.
    
They are also pressing him to change the constitution, under which his powers would be reduced and which would mean  presidential elections before the scheduled date in March 2015.
    
A pivotal decision will be who Yanukovich names as his candidate for prime minister to replace the Russian-born Mykola Azarov, whom he sacked on Jan. 28 in a vain attempt to appease the protesters.
    
He has until the end of the month to reach a decision although parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak was quoted by Interfax on Friday as saying he thought Yanukovich might present his choice to parliament next Tuesday.
    
With the hryvnia under devaluation pressure, he has to find a new steward of the economy quickly.

Some information for this story was provided by Reuters.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid