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Ukraine

Ukraine: Calm before the storm?

In Kyiv, tense calm pervades. Just before talks between the government and opposition, President Yanukovych has invited parliament to address the current crisis. Meanwhile, police are rearming.

It almost sounds like a concession. parliament is to be involved in the search for a solution to the political crisis, said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday (23.01.2014). Yanukovych requested the extraordinary parliamentary session of the parliamentary speaker. The earliest that session can take place, however, is next week. The announcement came immediately prior to a renewed meeting between the president and three opposition leaders.

Prior to that point, Yanukovych had made no concessions to the opposition. Quite the opposite: New laws and police violence have placed protestors under increasing pressure over the last few weeks.

On Thursday, heavy military vehicles appeared, and there were markedly more police officers than before in the government quarter. Dozens of packages with gas masks were then unloaded. It's a sign, perhaps, that the police are preparing for new waves of violence.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the parliamentary opposition fraction Batkivshchyna, or All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland", has even said that he's ready to take "a bullet to the head." This comes just days after he was warning opposition protestors to "keep a cool head."

Vitali Klitschko
(Foto: Anatoliy Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Vitali Klitschko wants to find a peaceful solution for the crisis in Ukraine

'Radicals and terrorists'

But at this point, a few hours of peace have reigned in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where since Sunday radical opposition protesters have been clashing violently with police. Security forces have blocked protesters' path to government buildings and parliament.

The saying, "The people up there, and us down here," has direct meaning to Ukraine's opposition. Protesters stand below at "Independence Square," while government headquarters stand above on the steep Pechersk hills. The president's office, parliament and government buildings are guarded like a fortress. Rows of police busses and heavy trucks block off the paths of entry. Thousands of police officers and special units stand at the ready.

The president shouldn't let himself be intimidated, his followers say. Thousands of them have been demonstrating for weeks at Mariyinsky Park, directly next to the parliament building.

One of them is Oleh Kalaschnikov, a man in his early fifties. For weeks the ex-army officer and member of the ruling regional party has been firing up the followers of the president. To him, opposition protesters are "radicals and terrorists."

In Kyiv, they're trying to pull off a coup," he told DW. The government, he added, has reacted "very cleverly". It wants a political solution through negotiations. "If we'd wanted it otherwise, we would have settled the protests with violence a long time ago," Kalaschnikov said.

People with blue flags stand in a park
(Foto: Roman Goncharenko/DW)

Government supporters meet in the Mariyinsky Park

'Designate a leader'

Yet the impression that Ukraine's police force stands fully behind the president is deceiving. At a blockade just one hundred meters (328 feet) from parliament, two police officers get involved in a discussion with opposition protesters. They're wearing black helmets and masks, so that only their eyes can be seen.

"How should the crisis be solved?" a man asks.

An officer replies that the opposition should designate a leader to negotiate with the president.

It's a line that almost sounds like the opposition.

Fearing he'd said too much, the police officer glanced around and walked quickly away.

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