Yanukovych accepts Azarov’s resignation; other disputes remain

UKRAINE-UNREST-EU-RUSSIA-AZAROV-FILES

President Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, according to the president’s official website. Azarov’s government will continue working until the new prime minister is appointed. Azarov, who has led Ukraine’s government since Yanukovych took power in 2010, was forced out to ease tensions in Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis.

His departure comes on the same day that parliament voted to rescind anti-democratic laws curbing free speech and free assembly. The adoption of those laws with no public notice and no roll call vote ignited public anger.

A tense standoff between police and protesters began Jan. 19 on Hrushevskoho Street in Kyiv, triggered by the Jan. 16 laws. The confrontation turned deadly with the fatal shootings of three activists as police tried to disperse the crowd. Up to 300 more demonstrators were injured that day. The standoff continues today.

Even with Azarov out of the way, a step that will force the resignation of all his ministers, the political opposition says the step won’t be enough to end the political crisis or stop the two-month-old EuroMaidan demonstrations.

“It’s not a victory. It’s only a step to the victory,” said Vitali Klitschko, who leads the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance For Reforms Party. Echoed Andriy Pavlovsky of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party: “It’s a small step to resolve the confrontation.”

Azarov said in a statement: “The conflict situation that prevailed in the country, threatening the economic and social life of Ukraine , is a threat to the entire Ukrainian society and every citizen. During the confrontation the government did as much as we can for the peaceful resolution of conflict. We have done and are doing everything to prevent bloodshed, escalating violence, violations of human rights. The government provided the functioning of the economy and social security system in extreme conditions. In order to create more opportunities for social and political compromise for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the president of Ukraine to accept my resignation from the post of prime minister of Ukraine.”

See Katya Gorchinskaya’s 2011 interview with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov here

Azarov has been a powerful and controversial figure on the Ukrainian political scene for decades. He was implicated in alleged high-level corruption while serving as tax chief to then-President Leonid Kuchma. His voice is alleged to have been captured on audiotapes recorded by Mykola Melnychenko, Kuchma’s bodyguard, as using tax inspectors and prosecutors to harass political enemies. Azarov has always consistently denied any wrongdoing and, like other officials captured on the hundreds of hours of recordings, challenged their authenticity.

He lost a lot of credibility in recent months for his handling of the anti-government EuroMaidan demonstrators. He dismissed protesters as “terrorists” and his interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, presided over an occasionally violent police crackdown that led to the deaths of four protesters, including three from gunshot wounds on Jan. 22. All the while, Azarov not only insisted that police did not fire on demonstrators, but that the police were not even armed — a claim contradicted by eyewitness and other evidence.

The forcible police actions only seemed to spur demonstrators on even more. Today, thousands remain camped out on Independence Square and large crowds remain in a standoff with police on Hrushevskoho Street. This street is near Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and is part of a government district that includes the Cabinet of Ministers building and the Presidential Administration complex.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Azarov’s reputation had sunk so low that the elite gathered did not invite him to speak or attend all the events.

Here is the English Wikipedia page on Mykola Azarov:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mykola_Azarov

Political analyst Taras Berezovets predicated that Petro Poroshenko, an opposition member of parliament would be named the next prime minister as a compromise choice between President Viktor Yanukoych and the political opposition.

Azarov’s resignation has been one of the conditions of the political opposition to end the nation’s crisis that began on Nov. 21, when the EuroMaidan demonstrations started to protest Yanukovych’s ditching of an agreement with the European Union. A month later, Yanukovych accepted a $15 billion Russian bailout coupled with a 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas.

However, the two sides are still far apart. The opposition had been demanding:

* snap presidential elections ahead of the next scheduled one in 2015;

* amnesty for all people arrested, charged and convicted in connection with the ongoing EuroMaidan demonstrations; and

* adoption of the 2004 constitution that gives parliament more powers at the expense of the president.

Hanna Herman, a member of parliament with the pro-presidential Party of Regions, said the new prime minister will be a person “with a broad view of the world.” She said that  “we offered the opposition to lead the government, we wanted it to be a coalition government, but the opposition was neither ready nor willing to do it.”

Oleksandr Bryhynets, a member of parliament with the opposition Batkivshchyna Party led by imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, wrote on his Facebook page: “Azarov’s resignation doesn’t mean the resignation of the government. The voting for the resignation of the government in parliament and the president signing this decision would mean the resignation of the government.”

Regarding one of the opposition’s demands, amnesty for EuroMaidan demonstrations, “only those who leave Maidan (Independence Square) will get amnesty,” said Mykhailo Chechetov, a member of parliament with the pro-presidential Party of Regions.

A compromise could still be difficult to reach between Yanukovych and the political opposition, if Chechetov’s combative commments are any indication.

Chechetov defiantly defended police officers’ decision to work with “titushki” — hired thugs — to disperse EuroMaidan protesters. “It’s only natural that the community of cities stands up to those armed bandits bused in to crush the alients who come armed and ready to destroy, vandalize and take over government buildings.”

Oleh Tsariov, another member of parliament with the pro-presidential Party of Regions, said the nation needs a broader cleanup.

“Berkut, self-defense units, ‘titushki’ (government-hired thugs). I don’t like what’s going on in the country now, and even less will I like it when those who are strivking to get to power, will get there — such as Oleh Tiahnybok (leader of teh opposition Svoboda Party).” He said that he advised everyone in his Party of Regions faction to not vote to replease the Jan. 16 laws because the legislation bans facism in Ukraine. He says the laws wer passed in a constitution manner and passed committee hearings.

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