Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych could call early elections to end mass anti-government unrest, a top lawmaker said yesterday, as protest leaders demanded curbs to presidential powers in a stormy parliamentary debate.
Meanwhile, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton was set to arrive in Kiev to press for a resolution, as Europe and the US discussed a possible financial aid package to Ukraine in exchange for democratic reforms.
Ukraine’s protests erupted in November last year after Yanukovych rejected a key EU pact in favor of closer ties with Moscow, and the turmoil has now become an all-out movement to oust him.
The opposition pressed for concessions at a parliament session in which world champion boxer turned protest leader Vitali Klitschko called for an “end to the dictatorship.”
Nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok, called for “de-Putinization” — a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Kremlin is trying to break up Ukraine,” he said.
Opposition lawmakers chanted “Killers! Killers! Killers!” as the main lawmaker of Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party, Oleksandr Yefremov, took the floor with an emotional speech in which he blasted the protesters’ “extremism.”
However, Yuriy Miroshnychenko, Yanukovych’s personal representative in parliament, struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that the president was considering “two possible scenarios.”
“The first is the release of occupied buildings and an amnesty, and the second is early elections. The amnesty is not working out,” he said, referring to the release of scores of detained activists demanded by protesters.
The pro-EU opposition wants the activists freed without conditions, while the Regions Party has so far insisted this can only happen if occupied government buildings are vacated.
A conditional amnesty approved by the Regions Party came into force on Saturday last week and gives the protesters 15 days to leave the buildings, but the opposition has said that the law turns activists into “hostages” and refused to budge.
Protesters camped out on Kiev’s Independence Square expressed mixed feelings about the possibility of Yanukovych stepping down before the end of his mandate next year.
“Until we see a complete change which is not just Yanukovych, people will stand here,” said Vasyl, a campaigner from Lviv in western Ukraine.
Bogdan, an activist from Kiev, said: “It would be the best way for us. A full reset of power. Both president and parliament.”
In parliament, Klitschko also called for a return to Ukraine’s previous constitution, which would mean cutting the presidential powers that Yanukovych has built up since his 2010 election and would give more clout to the legislature.