KIEV, Jan. 23 – Ukraine's crisis appears set to escalate after President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday rejected protesters’ demands and opposition leaders decided to withdraw from negotiations aimed at easing the standoff.
Reacting to the development the protesters quickly moved on to expand their protest camp by several blocks in downtown Kiev towards the site of the most recent clashes with riot police.
“We go for continued battle,” Oleh Tiahnybok, the leader of the Svoboda party, said at a protest rally after the talks with Yanukovych. “The only condition is that there must be strict discipline, chain of command and the united force.”
The developments come hours after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych and urged him to take steps to immediately de-escalate the standoff.
While emphasizing that violence by any side is not acceptable, Biden underscored that “only the government of Ukraine can ensure a peaceful end to the crisis,” according to the statement posted by the White House on its website.
Biden also told Yanukovych that further bloodshed would have consequences for Ukraine’s relationship with the United States.
Biden said the government of Ukraine must meaningfully address the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters, stressing the importance of the ongoing dialogue with the opposition and the need for genuine compromise as the only solution to the crisis.
Biden also said that “freedoms of assembly and expression are fundamental pillars of a democratic society and must be protected.”
Meanwhile, the failed talks shows how far apart positions of Yanukovych and those of thousands of protesters, suggesting that escalation may follow.
The protesters earlier demanded resignation of Prime Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko for excessive use of force by riot police when they had tried to disperse the protesters last month.
But the fatalities forced the opposition leaders on Wednesday to expand their demands to include early presidential election. The next presidential election is currently due in March 2015.
Olena Lukash, the justice minister who participated in the talks between the opposition leader and Yanukovych, confirmed on Thursday that the parties have failed to agree on main things. She blamed the opposition leaders for that.
“Unfortunately, again the opposition leaders refused to condemn extremist actions,” Lukash said in a statement.
“They also failed to condemn capturing of local government offices, Lukash said. “We couldn’t find an answer to a question of whether opposition leaders will be able to control actions of those radical groups on the streets of Kiev.” (tl/ez)