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Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:25:02 PM
Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:25:54 PM
by richard balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) - The head of Kiev's city administration quit the party of President Viktor Yanukovich on Thursday in protest at the bloodshed on the streets of the Ukrainian capital - a sign the head of state may be losing support.
Volodymyr Makiyenko, who was directly appointed by Yanukovich to run the city, said in a statement he had left the president's Party of the Regions: "Today's events on the streets of Ukraine are a tragedy for the whole Ukrainian people.
"Human life must be the highest value of our country, and nothing must be allowed to contradict this principle."
His move followed statements of alarm from some of Ukraine's richest business "oligarchs", whose interests the Party of the Regions has been widely seen as protecting.
The worst violence in Ukraine's 22 years of post-Soviet independence, which has cost over 50 lives since Tuesday, has begun to disrupt life in the city of 2.8 million after three months in which a major protest camp on Independence Square has interfered relatively little with daily business in Kiev.
Makiyenko said he was hoping to reopen the underground rail network, the Metro, once it was safe to do so.
While the city administrator's move implied criticism of the use of force by police, analysts and diplomats said there were also indications that other members of the Party of the Regions were distancing themselves from Yanukovich in the light of criticism from Moscow that he has not been decisive enough.
"There is indirect information that some of the Regions members of parliament are leaving the country or Kiev," said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst for Penta think-tank.
Yanukovich, with strong support from Ukraine's industrial, Russian-speaking east and from the Kremlin, was elected in 2010, but the opposition is now demanding a new ballot.
The president's opponents, notably in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, were incensed when he decided against a trade deal with the European Union in November and turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin for vital financial support.
Possibly due to the risk of EU and U.S. sanctions, three of Ukraine's richest entrepreneurs have stepped up pressure on Yanukovich to hold back from using force and make every effort to solve the crisis through negotiation with the opposition.
"There are no circumstances which justify the use of force toward the peaceful population," steel and coal magnate Rinat Akhmetov said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Akhmetov, who partly bankrolled Yanukovich's election campaign in 2010 and whose wealth is put by Forbes at more than $15 billion, said: "People's deaths and injuries on the side of protesters and the security forces in street battles are an unacceptable price for political mistakes."
Viktor Pinchuk, another steel billionaire known in the West for his philanthropic activity, said: "A peaceful solution must be found. It is imperative to refrain from the use of force and find a compromise. ... It is time for all sides to take courageous steps toward compromise."
Dmytro Firtash, a gas and chemicals magnate who is part owner of popular TV channel Inter, said in a statement: We, through our joint actions, must end the bloodshed. We are against radical actions by whomever it might be."
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