UK & World News

  • 3 December 2013, 13:54

Ukraine PM 'Sorry' Over Crackdown On Protests

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has apologised for a violent police crackdown on protesters in Kiev on Saturday.

The police action drew strong criticism from the West and led to an even bigger rally attended by more than 300,000 people on Sunday.

"On behalf of our government, I would like to apologise for the actions of our law enforcement authorities on Maidan (Independence Square)," MrAzarov told an emergency parliament session as he urged politicians not to repeat the 2004 Orange Revolution that overthrew the country's leadership.

Speaking over the boos of opposition politicians during a debate on a no-confidence motion against his government, Mr Azarov said: "We reach out our hand to you, push away the intriguers, the intriguers seeking power and who are trying to repeat the scenario of 2004," he said.

As Mr Azarovspoke in Russian, he was almost drowned out by calls for him to speak in Ukrainian.

Opposition members also shouted "shame" and "revolution" as pro-government MPs spoke.

"Shame to your president and shame to your government," shoutedArseniyYatsenyuk, anMPwith the Fatherland party, the largest opposition grouping.

Outside the building, thousands of demonstrators gathered again, calling for the government's dismissal.

But despite the fury, the opposition lost the call for a vote of no-confidence.

President Viktor Yanukovych's recent decision to shelve the long-anticipated agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the EU and to seek closer co-operation with Russia brought the protesters onto to the streets on Saturday.

But he left the country before parliament met to discuss the no-confidence motion, heading to China in an attempto to secure loans and investment to avert a debt crisis.

In parliament, former heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko, now leader of the opposition Udar (Punch) party, urged Mr Yanukovich to resign.

"Don't do anything stupid - don't drive yourself and the country into a dead end," he said.

The protests are the largest since the weeks of mass demonstrations in 2004, which also were directed against Mr Yanukovych after he was declared victor in a presidential election marred by fraud.

Those protests forced a revote, which Mr Yanukovych lost. He then narrowly won the office in 2010, beating Orange Revolution icon Yulia Tymoshenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who strongly opposed the EU deal, has denounced the opposition protests in Kiev as "pogroms".

The Ukrainian president phoned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday to ask to renew negotiations on signing the association agreement.

He insisted he remained committed to European integration, but would like to negotiate better terms for the fragile Ukrainian economy.