Ukraine's PM quits ahead of special parliament session

By bne IntelliNews January 28, 2014

bne -

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov turned in his resignation on January 28, ahead of a special session of the parliament designed to offer concessions to the opposition.

Azarov cited "personal reasons" for quitting his post . The move seems to be another play by President Viktor Yanukovych for more time to deal with the ongoing protests, which were sparked by his decision in November to refuse to sign a pact with the EU, followed by a December deal with Russia.

The opposition has already turned down an offer earlier this month of the PM's job and says it will accept nothing short of early elections. The resignation throws open the tricky question of who will replace Azarov. Early speculation has it that chocolate magnate and political butterfly Petro Poroshenko may be a mutually acceptable caretaker for the post. However, the opposition is thought unlikely to accept a change of PM as sufficient grounds to call a truce.

A special session of the Rada is now underway. Yanukovych has promised to repeal the anti-protest laws that were passed on January 16 and sparked off vicious street fighting in the capital Kyiv and then spread the protest across the country. Amongst the bills registered for a vote today is a one that will ban voting by a show of hands, which is how the anti-protest laws were pushed through.

Following a four-hour meeting with opposition leaders on January 27, Justice Minister Olena Lukash said the two sides had reached an agreement to scrap parts of the recent legislation. Quoted on the presidential website, she said the question of the government's "responsibility" would be discussed in parliament, suggesting there could be a vote of no-confidence in Azarov's government.

That is just the latest sign that cracks are appearing amongst the ruling elite as the opposition continues to appear to have the upper hand. Vladislav Lukyanov from the ruling Party of Regions told journalists that approval of the anti-protest laws was a "mistake".

At the same time, some officials are seeking to retain a more forceful stance. Lukash threatened on January 27 to call for a state of emergency if protesters did not vacate the building that houses her ministry, which had been occupied overnight. The opposition promptly left, although maintains a guard at the entrance, to avoid, it said, provoking the government.

Elsehwhere, unrest continues to spread across the country with opposition crowds taking control of at least 10 regional governments and battles ongoing for control in at least six more. With control over the country slipping through Yanukovych's hands he is finding himself forced to offer ever greater compromise. Last week, he offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland party - one of the three opposition leaders - the PM's chair. That was interpreted as an effort to split the opposition, and was formally rejected at the meeting with the government on January 27.

Protestors have said they are resolved to remain on the streets until they achieve their goal of forcing early elections. They spent January 27 reinforcing barricades in Kyiv ready for trouble if the Rada session doesn't go well.

Yanukovych is reportedly also preparing for that potential scenario. According to the reputable Ukrainian weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a secret resolution to increase the number of riot troops to 30,000, a six-fold increase from current levels.

At the same time the paper says the justice ministry will legalize creation of "civic patrols," a move widely seen as a legalization of the football thugs known as "Titushki," that have been fighting along side police in some of the eastern regions, the Kyiv Post reports. The cabinet has also reportedly ruled to tap its emergency reserve fund to buy ammunition and weapons for special forces, and is preparing documents about introduction of martial law.

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