Ukraine: arrest warrant for President Yanukovych

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s acting government issued a warrant Monday for the arrest of President Viktor Yanukovych, last reportedly seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, accusing him of mass crimes against protesters who stood up for months against his rule.

Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after snipers attacked protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.

The turmoil has turned this strategically located country of 46 million inside out over the past few days, raising fears that it could split apart. The parliament speaker is suddenly nominally in charge of a country whose economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.

The acting finance minister said Monday that the country needs $35 billion to finance government needs this year and next and expressed hope that Europe or the United States would help.

Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakhov, said on his official Facebook page Monday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians.” At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week.

Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in Crimea on Sunday, relinquished his official security detail and then drove off to an unknown location, turning off all forms of communication. “Yanukovych has disappeared,” he said.

Earlier, after signing an agreement Friday with the opposition to end a conflict that had turned deadly, Yanukovych had fled the capital of Kiev for eastern Ukraine. Avakhov said he tried to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped, then went to Crimea.

Tensions have been mounting in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters raised a Russian flag on a city hall in one town and scuffled with police. Russia maintains a big naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.

The tensions seem to be driven by Russia, though a representative of the pro-Moscow Russian Unity party played down fears that Crimea could secede, saying that they want to maintain ties with Moscow and a Putin-driven Customs Union but do not want Crimea to break away.

Yanukovych set off a wave of protests by shelving an agreement with the European Union in November and turning toward Russia, and the movement quickly expanded its grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.

“We must find Yanukovych and put him on trial,” said protester Leonid Shovtak, a 50-year-old farmer from the western Ivano-Frankivsk region who came to Kiev’s Independence Square to take part in the three-month protest movement. “All the criminals with him should be in prison.”

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