Ukrainian President Stuns Protesters With Offer Of Government Jobs
Saturday, January 25, 2014
The political crisis in Ukraine is spreading, with tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev's central square, demanding that President Viktor Yanukovych step down. From Kiev, NPR's Corey Flintoff speaks with guest host Kelly McEvers about some surprising developments.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The political crisis in Ukraine has taken a stunning turn with news that embattled President Viktor Yanukovych may be near an agreement with leaders of the opposition. The move comes as anti-government protests spread to more parts of the country. And demonstrators in Kiev, the capital, seemed poised to launch violent clashes with police.
The agreement between the two sides involves concessions from the government and key jobs for top protest leaders. NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line with us from Kiev. Corey, this is a fast-moving story. What's the latest?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, Kelly, this whole set of new developments came out this afternoon after Yanukovych held a long meeting with the three top leaders of this protest. He's offered the job of prime minister to Arseniy Yatsenyuk who's the leader of the Motherland Party. Yatsenyuk is actually the most experienced politician among these three opposition leaders. He's a former foreign minister.
He just spoke to the protesters a little while ago in the central square here in Kiev where they've been holding out now for longer than two months. He said the opposition is ready to accept responsibility for leading the country, but he didn't explicitly say that he's actually accepted Yanukovych's offer.
The job of vice prime minister in charge of humanitarian affairs has been offered to Vitali Klitschko. He's a former heavyweight boxing champion, although he's had very little political experience before emerging as one of the leaders of this protest.
MCEVERS: I mean, this isn't what the protesters originally wanted, is it? I mean, they've been saying all along that nothing would satisfy them short of President Yanukovych's resignation. Why would they accept now?
FLINTOFF: Well, the leaders are portraying this agreement as a victory for the protesters. And I think they may have realized that it would have been exceedingly difficult to oust Yanukovych and call for new elections. Yanukovych is up for election next year anyway, and this would give the opposition leaders time to prepare to run for president themselves, which is what many people have been expecting them to do.
The catch with this deal is that it would apparently leave Yanukovych in place as president with his ruling party in control of parliament. So prime minister might not be such an enticing job. There is more to this deal than the job offers. It includes an offer to change the new law that bans most kinds of public protests. That's one of the big things that ignited this most recent round of violent clashes between the protesters and the police. There's also a proposal to return to an earlier version of Ukraine's constitution that would reduce the president's powers.
MCEVERS: So far, we've heard about what the protesters will get out of the deal. What does the government want in return?
FLINTOFF: The government wants the protesters to vacate all the buildings that they've seized around the country. And they've seized several more of them in the last couple of days. It's not at all clear at this point whether the rank-and-file protesters will agree to any of this because there's not a radicalized part of the protest that wants to go all the way and force Yanukovych's resignation.
MCEVERS: NPR's Corey Flintoff in Kiev, Ukraine. Corey, thank you so much.
FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Kelly.
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