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Kerry to Meet Ukraine Opposition Amid Fears Army Will Intervene

Saturday, 01 February 2014 06:19 AM

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's opposition warned Saturday the military may move against anti-government demonstrators, ahead of talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the country's worst crisis since independence.

The warning came hours after the army weighed in on the crisis for the first time, calling on President Viktor Yanukovych to act urgently to end the turmoil.

Also on Saturday, Russia's foreign minister slammed Western support of Ukraine's opposition, suggesting on Saturday that it is helping fuel the escalation of violence.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed a finger at the opposition's supporters in the West.
 
"What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?" he asked. "Why don't we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?"
 
"Why are many prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions, although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" he added.

As fears grew that authorities may be preparing to crush the two-month protest movement, Kerry said the United States and European Union "stand with the people of Ukraine."

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry told political, diplomatic and military leaders at a Munich conference.

"The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight."

Opposition supporters are refusing to leave their protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square despite a string of concessions from the authorities, including the resignation of prime minister Mykola Azarov.

Several people were shot dead in a recent outbreak of violence in the capital Kiev, parts of which have been turned into a battle zone.

Opposition leaders began meeting top Western officials in Munich Friday to try to secure support from Brussels and Washington.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the opposition party Batkivshchyna told Germany's president and foreign minister and EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton it was "very likely" the military would use force against the protesters.

His warning came after the defense ministry, which had previously said it would not interfere, said the seizure of public buildings was unacceptable and warned that "further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country's territorial integrity."

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "very concerned by attempts to involve the military in the crisis."

Yanukovych on Friday scrapped controversial anti-protest laws that had radicalized the protest movement and signed an amnesty bill for jailed opposition activists, but this will only take effect if protesters vacate the public buildings they have occupied within 15 days.

Germany urged Yanukovych, who has been on sick leave since Thursday, to find a political solution to avoid further confrontation.

"If the fuse on the powder keg is already lit then it is highly dangerous to play for time," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Munich.

"That's why we have to tell President Yanukovych and his people to quickly and fully meet the commitments he has made to the opposition."

Kerry will Saturday hold his first face-to-face talks with opposition leaders including boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, a development seen as a major boost to the protest movement.

"In Munich the opposition is planning to discuss a possible Marshall plan for Ukraine," Batkivshchyna party quoted its leader Yatsenyuk as saying.

Under a Cold War-era initiative known as the Marshall Plan, the United States helped rebuild Europe after the end of World War II to prevent the spread of Communism.

The outcome of Ukraine's most severe crisis since its 1991 independence is expected to determine whether Ukraine will revert to close ties with historical master Russia or integrate more closely with the West.

The protests began in November, after Yanukovych scrapped an integration deal with the EU under pressure from the Kremlin, and have spiraled into an uprising to demand the president's removal.

Ukraine remains mired in deep economic trouble and has accepted a $15 billion bailout from Moscow.

However, Putin this week warned that the financing would not be released in full until a new government is named in Ukraine.

On Saturday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused EU leaders of interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs.

"Why are many prominent EU politicians actually encouraging such actions although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" said Lavrov in Munich.

"What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?"

Protest leaders claim that abuse and beatings of activists are widespread.

Opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov, who went missing more than a week ago, reappeared Thursday night and said he had been tortured by abductors who cut off his ear and drove nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was "appalled" at the "obvious signs of torture," a sentiment echoed by the EU's Ashton.

Ukraine's interior ministry said Bulatov would be placed under house arrest for a week on suspicion of organizing major unrest.

Germany's foreign minister Steinmeier told Yatsenyuk Germany was ready to accept the activist for treatment.

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Ukraine's opposition warned Saturday the military may move against anti-government demonstrators, ahead of talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the country's worst crisis since independence.
ukraine,eu,russia,unrest,politics
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2014-19-01
Saturday, 01 February 2014 06:19 AM
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