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Protesters throw stones during clashes with police in central Kiev, Ukraine yesterday. AP PHOTO
Ukraine

'If it's a bullet to the head, it's a bullet to the head' says Ukrainian opposition leader

Ukrainian opposition leaders have issued an ultimatum to President Viktor Yanukovych after talks failure.

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS has  issued a stark ultimatum to President Viktor Yanukovych to call early elections within 24 hours or face more popular rage, after the death of protesters in confrontations with police in a grim escalation of a two-month long political crisis.

The protesters’ deaths, the first since the largely peaceful protests started in November, fueled fears that the daily demonstrations aimed at bringing down the government over its decision to shun the European Union for closer ties to Moscow and over human rights violations could turn more violent.

Riot police

With a central Kiev street ablaze and covered with thick black smoke from burning tyres and several thousand protesters continuing to clash with riot police, opposition leaders urged tens of thousands of demonstrators in a nearby square to refrain from violence and remain in the main protest camp for the next 24 hours.

They demanded that Yanukovych dismiss the government, call early elections and scrap harsh anti-protest legislation. It was last week’s passage of the laws cracking down on protests that set off the violent clashes.

“You, Mr. President, have the opportunity to resolve this issue. Early elections will change the situation without bloodshed and we will do everything to achieve that,” opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told some 40,000 people who braved freezing temperatures on Kiev’s Independence Square late Wednesday night.

If Yanukovych does not concede, opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said:

… tomorrow we will go forward together. And if it’s a bullet in the forehead, then it’s a bullet in the forehead, but in an honest, fair and brave way.

Yanukovych has showed little willingness to compromise, however. A three-hour meeting with opposition leaders accomplished “nothing,” said Oleh Tyahbnybok, who attended the session.

Meanwhile, the government handed security forces extra powers, including closing off streets and firing water cannon against protesters despite the freezing temperatures. Police have already used water cannon but insisted it was only to put out fires. The government also deployed an armored personnel carrier at the site of the clashes.

During Wednesday’s confrontations, riot police violently beat and shot at protesters, volunteer medics and journalists. The Interior Ministry announced that 70 protesters had been arrested.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the police did not have live ammunition and that opposition leaders should be held responsible for the deaths.

Explainer: What exactly is going on in Ukraine?

Read: Two killed in Ukraine clashes>

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Author
Associated Foreign Press
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