A decisive day for Ukrainian protesters | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 28.01.2014
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A decisive day for Ukrainian protesters

A week after violent protests broke out, Ukraine's parliament is meeting for a special session. Repressive laws are set to be eliminated, and arrested demonstrators freed. But protesters want their demands met fast.

"Dear, do you also have a mother? Please think of her and go home," says an older woman in a gray coat and a colorful wool headscarf to a police officer. He's a muscular officer in his late 40s, wearing a black uniform. Politely, he listens to the woman but says nothing.

Scenes like this happened on Monday (27.01.2014) throughout Kyiv's government district. The relatively small district atop Petscherski Hill looks a bit like a besieged fortress. Thousands of police officers stand in the streets and warm themselves in busses. Passers-by repeatedly try and convince them to give up.

"You have to protect the people and not the criminal regime," says one man to five police officers standing on an army vehicle.

"Are you supposed to be the people?" one officer responds, his face covered with a mask. "Get out of here!"

Today (28.01.2014), it may be decided here in the government district whether Ukraine's political crisis will come to a peaceful end or whether more bloodshed is on the way. Parliament is set to debate the demonstrators' demands during a special session.

One point of conflict defused

One central issue of contention was already settled on Monday night and concerns what protesters call the "dictatorial laws" passed on January 16, 2014. They significant restrict the right to demonstrate.

According to the recent laws, those who take part in protests face punishment. So, too, do those who conceal their faces or call for a change of government in the media or on social networks. The punishment for violators ranges from a fine to 15 years in prison.

Members of parliament embroiled in fist fights (c) Reuters

Fights broke out in parliament regarding the January 16 legislation

The legislation criminalizes the actions of tens of thousands of protest participants, who have been demonstrating for weeks against President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. The impetus for the protests came with the head of state's foreign policy pivot in which he refused to sign a long-planned association agreement with the European Union. Instead, Yanukovych has forged closer ties with Russia.

However, those factors now play a secondary role for many protesters, who are seeking a change of course on domestic policy and more democracy.

Constitutional changes, new elections?

The president initially said he was unwilling to overturn the controversial laws. But after more than four hours of negotiations between the government and the opposition on Monday evening, the two sides came to an agreement about eliminating those laws and providing amnesty for demonstrators. Justice Minister Elena Lukash said the parliament should also discuss the government's responsibility for violence against demonstrators.

Now action will have to follow what was said, and the devil is in the details. The president has indeed said he would be prepared to pass on some of his authority to parliament, but how and when the constitution would be changed remains an open question. The opposition is seeking an immediate decision.

Finally, there is to be a discussion on moving up parliamentary and presidential elections, which is the protesters' central demand. So far, the president has rejected that, offering instead for the opposition to take posts in his government.

The opposition leaders are unlikely to accept that offer because the majority of demonstrators would not support it. That became clear during an appearance by the heads of the protest movement at Independence Square in Kyiv. Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the influential Batkivshchyna party faced boos from the crowd when he said the opposition was prepared to take on responsibility. Yanukovych had offered him the post of prime minister.

Vitali Klitschko speaking in Kyiv (c) picture-alliance/dpa

Vitali Klitschko has warned of an escalation in violent protests

Divisions within the movement

The agenda for the parliamentary session is so complex that it could take days before all of its points have been discussed and resolved. In a joint declaration, the opposition leaders said they were prepared to undertake further negotiations. But not everyone within the opposition wants to wait. If there are no concrete decisions on January 28, former Minister of the Interior Yuriy Lutsenko said during a meeting with demonstrators that the protests will zero in on the parliament building. Lutsenko is considered a supporter of storming the government district.

Meanwhile, it's becoming clearer and clearer that the opposition leaders don't have control over parts of the protesters. They distanced themselves from those who occupied additional ministries in Kyiv on Monday, calling them "agitators." There are some signs that the situation is spinning out of control, and opposition politician Vitali Klitschko warned of that very outcome in an interview with DW.

The particularly radical protesters at Hrushevskoho Street say they are ready to escalate things further. If their core demand for the president to step down is not met, they say, the fight will continue. New barricades are being erected in Kyiv's streets nearly by the hour.

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