Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his entire cabinet resigned Tuesday as the country’s parliament met in an extraordinary assembly to consider proposals to end months of violent protests across the country.
Mr. Azarov’s resignation is unlikely to satisfy the demands of the protesters or opposition leaders who have taken to the streets for months demanding that President Viktor Yanukovych step down.
Reports emerged Tuesday that the resignation may even lead to Russia reconsidering its $15-billion bailout offer to Ukraine.
But President Vladimir Putin said Russia would honour its obligations even if the opposition formed the next government. The loan was to “support the people of Ukraine, not the government. It’s the people, the common people that suffer,” Mr. Putin told a news conference after talks with European Union leaders in Brussels.
However, he said Russia would be monitoring Ukraine’s economic health closely as the loan needed to be repaid.
Last week, Mr. Yanukovych offered to replace Mr. Azarov with the main opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. However, Mr. Yatsenyuk turned down the proposal.
“In an effort to provide for additional opportunities for a social political compromise, to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, I’ve decided to offer my resignation as Prime Minister,” Mr. Azarov said in a statement Tuesday. “The conflict in the state threatens the social and economic development of Ukraine and threatens the entire Ukrainian society and every individual citizen.”
Mr. Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Mr. Azarov and named former central banker Serhiy Arbuzov as interim prime minister. The president will now try to form a new government
During Tuesday’s parliamentary session members voted to repeal most of the anti-protest measures adopted earlier this month to crack down on the protests. They also voted to consider an amnesty for protesters who have been arrested. Both proposals were supported by the Party of Regions, the party of Mr. Yanukovych which holds a majority in parliament.
Mr. Yanukovych agreed last week to scale back the laws and he has said he would consider an amnesty for those who have been arrested, providing protesters cleared the streets of the many barricades they have erected.
On Tuesday, Parliament suspended for the day without considering the amnestry proposal. The debate is supposed to resume Wednesday.
Most of the streets around the parliament were blocked off by hundreds of police wearing riot gear. Police also put up a series of concrete blocks to restrict access along a main thoroughfare.
Throughout the morning thousands of supporters of Mr. Yanukovych streamed into a park in front of the parliament, many arriving by bus from various regions. By 10 a.m. the park was filled with people waving the Party of Region’s blue and yellow flag and wearing bright red stickers saying “Stop Maidan”, a reference to the protesters. A television screen had been set up on a giant stage to broadcast the parliamentary debate and party officials gave periodic speeches denouncing the protesters for “prostituting Ukraine for the Europeans” and suggesting that the anti-Yanukovych movement was a “CIA plot to take over the country”.
“I support the legitimate policies of the president who I voted for,” said Illena Obelets, who manages a government housing project in Kiev and came to show her support for Mr. Yanukovych. She accused the protesters of having fascist elements, saying they have broken laws and illegally forced out 10 regional governors who had been appointed by the President. “I think every person has the right to voice their own opinion but that right has passed the barriers of normalcy. Some of [the protesters] are very radical protesters. … I think that in Canada this would not be possible.”
Another pro-Yanukovych supporter, Zhana Harnesh, said the protesters should be put in a cage and thrown in jail. “The authorities we have are within the law and they were chosen by the electorate. No one has the right to change that,” she said.
But not everyone shared that view. Walking down a street near the parliament, Yuri Ivanovych pointed to a line of police and sneered; “These are the people who beat us up.”
The “maidan is for the people,” he added. “It defends human rights.”
Inside parliament, the debate was tense, with one opposition member showing up wearing a bulletproof vest. “This is my moral protest against what’s happening,” author Maria Matios, a member of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform told reporters. “I never would have thought that we’d be living in the cross hairs of a Kalashnikov.”
With a report from Reuters.