TRUCE COULD BRING PEACE IN UKRAINE

NewsMax on February 19, 2014, reported that the office of Ukraine’s embattled president says he and leaders of the country’s raging protests have called for a truce. Excerpts below:

The brief statement came after President Viktor Yanukovych met with top leaders of the protests that flared into violence and that has left at least 26 people dead.

The statement did not give details of what a truce would entail or how it would be implemented.

Earlier, Yanukovych had moved to quell the growing insurgency by granting sweeping powers to the army and police after a region declared independence from his government, risking wider conflict.

Reeling from the bloodiest clashes in a three-month standoff, the Russian-backed leader’s security service said it was undertaking a nationwide anti-terrorism operation to restore public order and protect state borders. That move would give the military the right to search, detain, and even fire on Ukrainians in the course of the operation, the Defense Ministry said.

Yanukovych then fired army chief Volodymyr Zaman and replaced him with the head of the navy without explanation.

During an anti-terrorism operation, soldiers can also legally search civilian vehicles and stop car and pedestrian traffic, according to the Defense Ministry. The security service said in the statement that protesters have seized more than 1,500 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition from military bases, depots, and government buildings, without elaborating.

President Barack Obama warned Ukraine “there will be consequences” for violence if people step over the line and hurt civilians. He says that includes making sure that the military doesn’t step into a situation that civilians should resolve.

Obama said the United States condemns the violence in the strongest terms and holds Ukraine’s government primarily responsible to ensure it is dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev in December against involving the military in efforts to break up demonstrations, according to the Department of Defense.

“If the authorities want to draw the military into the political conflict, I’m convinced soldiers will be on the side of the people,” opposition lawmaker Serhiy Kaplin said Jan. 31.

Lawmakers in Lviv on the Polish border on February 19 ousted their Yanukovych-appointed governor, established a new government autonomous from his administration, and declared their allegiance to the opposition in Kiev. Protesters seized government and security headquarters in at least four other regions, while Poland’s premier warned of civil war, and European leaders threatened sanctions.

Ukrainian bonds and stocks slumped. The yield on the government’s $1 billion of notes maturing in June jumped a record to an all-time high of 34.97 percent, compared with 22.9 percent Tuesday. The Ukrainian Equities Index fell for a second day, losing 4.2 percent. The cost of insuring Ukraine’s debt for five years against nonpayment using credit default swaps rose to the highest since July 2009.

Thousands remained on Independence Square, including reinforcements from Lviv, with squadrons of police ringing their burning barricades. The violence drew a sharp reaction from global leaders.

The European Union moved toward freezing the assets of Ukraine’s most powerful officials. The bloc’s foreign ministers will meet on February 20to weigh “all possible options,” including “restrictive measures against those responsible for repression,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in an emailed statement from Brussels.

Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych to express “grave concern” over the violence and urge the government to exercise restraint. The United States is consulting with the EU, and the timeline for any response is “fluid,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to Mexico.

The violence has spread throughout western Ukraine. Protesters stormed police buildings in Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, burned the offices of the ruling parties in Lutsk, and seized the government’s headquarters in Zakarpattia.

In Kiev, at least 15 protesters, nine security officers, and a journalist were among the fatalities, according to officials. Opposition groups say at least 20 protesters died, and many are still missing.

“There’s no way we leave, because we have nothing to lose anymore,” said Mykola, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal. “Everyone who spent the night here can already count on a dozen years in prison.”

The government closed the subway system, set up checkpoints to limit access to the city of 3 million people, and took the opposition’s Channel 5 off the air. Schools and kindergartens in central Kiev will remain closed on February 19, as will the subway, the city administration said.

Lights went out over Independence Square after midnight.

The opposition is seeking to overturn constitutional changes that strengthened Yanukovych’s powers and to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership.

Russia, which stopped buying bonds from Ukraine’s cash-strapped government after Yanukovych’s Russian-born prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned last month, said Feb. 17 it would resume purchases, including $2 billion this week. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov made the announcement just as opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk were meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to seek financial and political backing to form a new government.

“Russia is playing hardball,” Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Investment Capital in Kiev, said by phone. “Russia gave a clear signal that it knows who’ll be the next prime minister, that it’s ready to financially support him, and that no other players are acceptable here.”

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