Thousands of pro-EU protesters calling for the resignation of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gathered outside parliament yesterday, with opposition leaders pressing for a vote of no-confidence in his government.
Only days after a massive rally that brought 350,000 protesters into central Kiev, Yanukovych left for his state visit to China yesterday, leaving the country plunged into crisis by his decision to spurn a landmark deal with the EU and boost ties with Ukraine’s former Soviet master, Russia.
Several thousand protesters holding EU and Ukrainian flags stood face to face with riot police outside parliament. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov accused the opposition of planning to seize the building.
Protesters had blocked the entrances to the main government building on Monday, and Azarov said the government could not perform its basic functions, which could affect the payment of pensions and salaries.
“This has all the signs of a coup d’etat. This is a very serious matter,” Interfax news agency quoted him as telling the ambassadors of the EU, the US and Canada.
MP Hannah Herman, from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, said there was a possibility that some members of the party could vote against Yanukovych’s government.
Deputies were due to debate whether to hold a no-confidence vote. The opposition needs at least 226 votes to get the confidence motion on the agenda, and the same again to pass it.
In Kiev’s Independence Square protesters set up tents in preparation for a long campaign against Yanukovych’s last-minute decision to reject the free trade deal, which had been due to be signed on Friday.
On Monday, demonstrators halted traffic and called a general strike, seeking to force Yanukovych from office after massive demonstrations at the weekend, the biggest since the pro-democracy “Orange Revolution” of nine years ago.
Ukraine’s currency and bonds came under pressure, along with share prices, and the central bank was forced to assure people their savings were safe.
The US said violence by the authorities against protesters on Saturday was unacceptable and that reports of media representatives being targeted were “disturbing.”
With temperatures dropping well below zero, the numbers of protesters have dropped sharply and Yanukovych clearly felt the security situation was under control when he announced he would stick to a plan to travel yesterday to China, from which he is seeking loans and investment to avert a debt crisis.
However, some felt leaving was unwise.
“It is a very bad time to go abroad. The president’s absence may make talks with the opposition much more difficult,” Ukrainian political analyst Gleb Vyshlinsky said.
Russia wants to draw Ukraine into a Moscow-led customs union and prevent it moving closer to the EU, a move that would signal a historic shift toward the West and away from Kiev’s former Soviet masters in Moscow.