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In Munich, spotlight on Ukraine

February 1, 2014

The Ukrainian opposition won't stop fighting until the government makes concessions, according to leader Vitali Klitschko. The remarks were made at the Munich Security Conference, which has focused on the Ukraine crisis.

Opposition politician Vitali Klitschko and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Koschara at the Munich Security Conference.
Image: Getty Images

Tension flares over Ukraine at Security Conference

Ukraine politician Vitali Klitschko (pictured right) reiterated key demands of the opposition in Munich on Saturday, while also criticizing Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to abandon an association agreement with the EU for a trade deal with Russia.

The move was what had originally sparked mass protests in November, which have now escalated in the capital city Kyiv, resulting in the deaths of several protesters.

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: "There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight."

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing.

"Democratic powers won't let themselves be frightened," he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country's 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president's power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military.

"A military intervention is an option for this government," Yatsenyuk said.

Opposition must share responsibility

Ukraine Foreign Minister Leonid Koschara (pictured left) dismissed the opposition's accusations against the government.

The government "has fulfilled all of the key demands of the opposition," Foreign Minister Koschara said, adding that it was time for the opposition to "take on responsibility, too."

He also defended the decision not to sign an association agreement with the EU in November, citing the economy's probable collapse had the government not opted instead for a $15-billion loan (11-billion euros) from Moscow.

"We would still be negotiating with the International Monetary Fund about financial help," he said.

"It wasn't an easy decision, but it was the right one," the Ukraine foreign minister added.

Steinmeier calls for action

Germany also weighed in on the Ukrainian crisis on Saturday. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - referring to recent concessions, such as the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and the government's willingness to discuss holding elections - called on Ukraine's president to act quickly.

"It's dangerous to play with time when you've already lit the fuse on a powder keg," Steinmeier said.

On the sidelines of the conference on Saturday, Steinmeier also confirmed that opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov would be allowed to travel into the EU beginning on Sunday, according to information he had received from the Ukrainian prime minister.

Bulatov resurfaced on Thursday after being missing for a week. He had reportedly been badly beaten and tortured by his captors, revelations which drew condemnation from the international community. Similar reports of abuse and beating have come from other activists as well.

Kerry, Lavrov reaffirm backing

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," he said. "The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine."

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose government has backed Ukraine President Yanukovych through the months of protest, criticized Western leaders for supporting anti-government protesters.

"Why are so many prominent EU politicians actually encouraging such actions although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?" Lavrov said. "What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?"

kms/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)