News / Europe

    Ukraine's PM Warns Protesters Not to Escalate Tensions

    Ukranian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (R) gestures during a session of the Parliament in Kyiv, Dec. 3, 2013.
    Ukranian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (R) gestures during a session of the Parliament in Kyiv, Dec. 3, 2013.
    VOA News
    Ukraine's prime minister has warned anti-government protesters to stop escalating tensions, as other nations and a human rights group express concern about the police crackdown on the demonstrators.

    Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday the government is demonstrating tolerance and warning that lawbreakers will be punished.

    Later, at a meeting with representatives from the Council of Europe, Azarov accused the opposition of trying to provoke violence.  

    "The picture of all of the events that have happened is quite clear now," he said.  "We face very clear provocations.  There were no students on the square.  They were well-prepared provocateurs."

    Thousands of protesters remain camped out on a central square in the capital, Kyiv, continuing calls for the resignation of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

    • Ukrainian police officers stand in line during protests in Kyiv, Dec. 6, 2013. 
    • Kyiv's City Hall is now an organizational hub for protesters who have occupied the building, Dec. 6, 2013.
    • Protesters rest inside Kyiv's City Hall building, Dec. 6, 2013.
    • Supporters of Ukrainian EU integration sing and wave flags during a protest in front of the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers building in Kyiv,  Dec. 6, 2013. 
    • Protesters eat at their tent camp in Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 5, 2013.
    • Protesters drum on empty barrels as they rally in front of a government building in Kyiv, Dec. 5, 2013.
    • A man wrapped in a Ukrainian flag distributes tea to protesters at Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 4, 2013.
    • A man carrying a Ukrainian flag gestures as he stands on top of a bridge overlooking Independence Square, Kyiv, Dec. 4, 2013.
    • Protesters clash with police during a demonstration in support of EU integration in Kyiv, Dec. 3, 2013.
    • Police stand guard over protesters in front of parliament during a demonstration in support of EU integration, Dec. 3, 2013.

    The demonstrations have been growing since November 21, when Yanukovych backed out of a European Union trade deal, saying the country needed to continue close ties with Russia.

    Prime Minister Azarov has said Ukraine wants to further integrate with the EU, but cannot afford trade losses with Russia, which is Ukraine's largest foreign investor and trading partner and opposes closer Ukraine-EU relations.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a NATO news conference in Brussels Tuesday that Yanukovych has "obviously made a personal decision" that the Ukrainian people do not agree with.

    NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels issued a statement Tuesday condemning the "use of excessive force" against the demonstrators.

    While on Wednesday, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called on Ukrainian authorities to investigate reports of police using excessive force to control the crowds and to hold those responsible accountable.

    The Ukrainian opposition failed to force out the government Tuesday with a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The measure won the support of 186 mainly opposition lawmakers, 40 short of the majority needed to pass.

    But opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko called on supporters to continue to fight. He said if the people do not stop police abuses, "it will happen every time, and nobody will be protected."  President Yanukovych, meanwhile, has left Ukraine for a state visit to China.

    European news reports say the EU-Ukraine deal began unraveling in late October, when Moscow demanded that cash-strapped Kyiv immediately make full payment of a nearly $1 billion natural gas bill, or face a gas cutoff as winter hits the region.

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