Protest leaders, Ukraine president meet but crisis remains unresolved

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 6:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 6:05am

Ukraine yesterday suspended Kiev's mayor and the deputy head of its security council over a police crackdown on opposition protesters as tens of thousands took part in a rival rally in support of President Viktor Yanukovych.

A line of riot police separated the pro- and anti-government protesters.

A day after talks between the government and the opposition failed to resolve the country's political crisis, Yanukovych's supporters waved the blue flags of his Party of Regions and chanted the president's name.

"We are here to support the president and order," 18-year-old Maria Nikolayeva said. "Yanukovych is our best prospect at the moment."

The opposition has decried the rival rally as an artificial creation by Yanukovych's party which it said had brought in state employees under threat of firing them and planned to disrupt the anti-government protesters' three-week-old camp in a nearly square.

The pro-European Union opposition hopes to stage a record rally today, two days before Yanukovych is to travel to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin amid rumours he will agree to join its Customs Union.

Many arriving in Kiev for the rally are unlikely to be influenced by the president's dismissal of the two senior officials.

The authorities were conceding to one of the demands of the protesters by opening investigations against four top officials and suspending two. But the opposition signalled that the move was only a half-measure, and more heads needed to roll.

On Friday, Yanukovych protest leaders, three former presidents and an array of student, religious and union representatives. The talks ended with no indication that the crisis was any closer to resolution.

US Republican Senator John McCain arrived in Kiev yesterday and began talks at the Foreign Ministry. He is also expected to meet opposition representatives.

Additional reporting by Associated Press