Ukraine's armed forces have called on President Yanukovych to take "urgent steps" to stabilize the country. Meanwhile claims by an opposition activist that he'd been tortured have been met with international criticism.
A police investigation has been launched on Friday into allegations by Ukrainian opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov. He had been reported missing on January 23 after his involvement in several motorcade protests. Then he reappeared in his home village outside Kyiv on Thursday and made his claims to Ukrainian television station Channel 5.
"My hands... they crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face," said Bulatov, still wearing his bloodied clothes. "Thank God I am alive … I can't see well now, because I sat in darkness the whole time."
Bulatov's disappearance was the latest alleged kidnapping of an activist, with the United Nations' human rights office calling for an independent probe: "We are appalled by the deaths reported in recent days in Kiev, which should be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated," Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, told reporters on Friday. "We are also calling for an investigation into reports of kidnappings and torture."
Tensions remained high in Kyiv on Friday, with protesters continuing to occupy government buildings in the Ukrainian capital. Yanukovych went on indefinite sick leave on Thursday for flu-like symptoms, having seen his controversial anti-protest legislation overturned two days earlier in an extraordinary session of parliament.
Yanukovych's sick leave has not stopped the release of a statement from Ukraine's armed forces, of which he is the commander-in-chief.
"Servicemen and employees of Ukraine's armed forces ... have called on the commander-in-chief to take urgent steps within the limits of existing legislation with a view to stabilizing the situation in the country and reaching consent in society," the defense ministry said in a statement.
"The servicemen and employees of the armed forces called unacceptable the seizure of state offices, preventing representatives of state and local authorities from fulfilling their duties." The statement added that "further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country's territorial integrity."
Hours after his sick leave was announced, a statement on the presidential website criticized the opposition for "continuing to inflame the situation." But Yanukovych also pledged to "show more understanding for the demands and ambitions of people, taking into account the mistakes that authorities always make."
His position has been under increasing pressure since he elected not to sign an association agreement with the European Union last November in lieu of closer ties with neighbor Russia. The decision sparked mass demonstrations in Kyiv and the establishment of a protest camp in the Maidan, also known as Independence Square.
On Friday, Yanukovych signed a bill offering amnesty to protestors on the condition that any demonstrators occupying government buildings leave the premises. The opposition did not support the bill, demanding instead that the protesters be released without conditions.
Several of Yanukovych's political rivals, including opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and UDAR party chief Vitali Klitschko, are expected to meet with United States Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, which begins on Friday.
ph/rg (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)