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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

Ukraine teeters towards state of emergency as protesters occupy Ministry

What began as a struggle over the EU has become Ukraine’s worst crisis in more than two decades.

Protesters stand guard at the entrance to the Justice Ministry early this morning
Protesters stand guard at the entrance to the Justice Ministry early this morning
Image: AP Photo/Sergei Grits

UKRAINE HAS THREATENED to impose a state of emergency after demonstrators occupied the justice ministry overnight and protests demanding the president’s resignation spread despite a power-sharing offer.

Opposition leaders said an olive branch proposal from President Viktor Yanukovych was not enough to end the ex-Soviet country’s worst crisis since independence, and demanded snap elections this year.

The protests began more than two months ago over Yanukovych’s rejection of a pact with the European Union under Russian pressure. But they have now turned into an all-out bid to oust him from power.

Protesters have already attempted to blockade 14 of the 25 regional administrations, including in southern and eastern parts of the nation of 46 million that predominantly speak Russian and share an historical allegiance to Moscow.

Tensions remained high in Kiev as several dozen radical protesters from a group named Spilna Sprava (The Right Deed) seized control of the justice ministry late on Sunday, smashing windows and erecting barricades outside.

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Protesters burn a portrait of President Victor Yanukovych (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Justice Minister Olena Lukash, who is taking part in negotiations between the opposition and Yanukovych, said she would ask for the talks to be broken off if the building was not freed.

‘State of emergency’

“I will be forced to ask the president of Ukraine to stop the talks if the building is not freed immediately and negotiators are not given a chance to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Lukash told Ukraine’s Inter channel.

If the protesters do not vacate the building, Lukash said she would also approach Ukraine’s national security council with “a demand to discuss imposing a state of emergency in this country.”

Europe has urged dialogue between the two sides — a call echoed by Pope Francis, who voiced hope in his weekly Angelus prayer that “the search for common good may prevail in the hearts of all”.

Power sharing

Under unprecedented pressure, Yanukovych on Saturday offered the opposition posts in government including that of prime minister, but his opponents said the offer fell short of their needs.

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Protesters in the Justice Ministry (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Yanukovych proposed sharing leadership with Fatherland party chief Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister and UDAR (Punch) chief and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as deputy prime minister.

Klitschko, who is believed to have a personal rivalry with Yatsenyuk, condemned the proposal in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

“This was a poisoned offer by Yanukovych designed to split our opposition movement,” he was quoted as saying.

Opposition leaders have been careful, however, to neither accept nor explicitly reject Yanukovych’s proposals. They have said talks will continue although it was not clear when.

Yanukovych’s office has also said the president is willing to consider constitutional changes to reduce his power and return to a system according more authority to the prime minister.

A crucial day in the standoff is expected to come on Tuesday when parliament meets in an extraordinary session to debate key sticking points in the crisis, including possible changes to protest laws.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the coming days could decide Ukraine’s path into the future”, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC television he was “very worried”.

- © AFP, 2014

Explainer: What exactly is going on in Ukraine? >

Read: ‘If it’s a bullet to the head, it’s a bullet to the head’ says Ukrainian opposition leader >

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