Ukraine is braced for more protests Wednesday, December 4 after a raucous parliamentary session ended with the government surviving a no-confidence vote called by the opposition.
Protesters, who have been on the streets of Kyiv and other cities since President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign off on a deal for closer ties with the EU at a summit on November 28-29, are reportedly threatening to extend their blockade of access roads to the heart of power at the centre of the nation's capital, to the office of the president. Not that Yanukovych will see it; he flew to China on December 3 in a probably forlorn attempt to drum up enough cash to avoid a financial crisis, which is looming after he spurned the West and is trying to remain out of Russia's grip.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said his cabinet would hold its weekly meeting on Wednesday in the government building, paving the way for a possible showdown with the protesters, who have blocked the entrances since December 2, demanding the government resign and the president call early elections.
Azarov's government managed to prevail in parliament over the opposition, which was trying to force the issue by holding a no-confidence vote. In a no-confidence vote at the end of the session, support from Yanukovych's Party of Regions was enough to keep the government in place. The opposition managed to muster just 186 deputies in support of the motion, out of 411 present.
"Azarov's victory has provided something of a lifeline to the Yanukovych administration, as at first glance it implies greater unity within the ranks of the ruling Regions party than had been hitherto assumed - only one of the party's 205 MPs in its parliamentary faction voted with the opposition," says Tim Ash of Standard bank. "The unity of the Region's parliamentary party is perhaps surprising given lots of talk/rumour of defections in recent days and following the mass anti-government demonstrations over the weekend. However, the fact that only 3 deputies in parliament voted in favour of Azarov is perhaps also telling, i.e. Regions' deputies were not willing to put their heads above the parapet and risk the wrath of party whips (and tax inspectors) by voting with the opposition, but at the same time they were not willing to risk the public's wrath by formally backing the incumbent."
According to Reuters, Azarov apologised in parliament for the police's use of force against protesters on the night of November 29-30, which only swelled the numbers on the subsequent days, and implored opposition leaders not to try a repeat of the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, when mass protests overturned a fraudulent election ironically won by today's president, Yanukovych. "We are open for dialogue," he said. "We have extended our hand to you, but if we encounter a fist, I will be frank, we have enough force."
According to The Guardian, Azarov, who hails from Yanukovych's heartland in the Russian-speaking east of the country and does not speak Ukrainian, addressed the parliament in Russian but was drowned out by chants of "Speak Ukrainian!" and "Resign!" by nationalist MPs.
Investors remain nervous too, worsening Ukraine's financial plight. Credit default swaps to insure Ukrainian debt against default hit levels not seen since January 2010.
The West is also weighing in. Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels issued a statement December 3 condemning the "use of excessive force" against the demonstrators. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it is important that Ukrainians' right to peaceful protest is respected.
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