Ukraine Opposition Tries To Force Yanukovych From Office

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Opposition leaders have called on President Viktor Yanukovych to call early elections within 24 hours or face more popular rage. The ultimatum comes after at least 2 protesters were killed in confrontations with police in a escalation of a political crisis. Steve Inskeep talks to Will Englund, a correspondent with The Washington Post, who's in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Protesters in Ukraine have given their country's president an ultimatum. They say he must call early elections or unrest will grow even worse. This country of 45 million people is fighting over which way it leans - toward European nations to the West or eastward toward Russia, which once controlled Ukraine. Protests began when the president gave in to Russian pressure to block a trade deal with the European Union. And those protests have turned deadly this week with at least two people killed - more by some estimates.

We go now to Washington Post reporter Will Englund. He's in the capital, Kiev. Welcome to the program.

WILL ENGLUND: Thanks very much.

INSKEEP: Now, when we say two people dead, can you explain why that is so shocking to Ukrainians? There certainly have been more deadly protests in the world.

ENGLUND: Yes, but not here. In the whole history of protests in Ukraine since 1991 even, there's been nothing like this kind of violence. And I think people have gotten used to the idea that you can protest and have fights with the police and no one is going to get seriously hurt. So this has really been a tremendous shock to a lot of people.

INSKEEP: Even when a president was driven out of office a few years ago, no one was killed in the streets?

ENGLUND: That was in 2004, the Orange Revolution, and no, there was not any kind of violence like this.

INSKEEP: Yesterday was very different though. What did it look like?

ENGLUND: It was pretty ugly. You had the riot police on the street near the parliament twice during the day sweeping down that street and then pulling back again to the original line. Burned out buses, protestors throwing stones and fireworks at them. There was some shooting; no one has quite determined who did it, but two people were killed. Many were taken into detention.

Quite a few people were injured as well by perhaps rubber bullets, by splinters flying through the air, and by these stun grenades that the police are throwing, which don't send off a lot of shrapnel, but if you're right next to one when it goes off, it can do quite a lot of damage.

INSKEEP: So what are people talking about today?

ENGLUND: Well, everyone's waiting. It looked very grim yesterday afternoon and there was a thought that the police might try to sweep the square. They did not. The three opposition political leaders met with President Viktor Yanukovych for about three hours. No one seemed very pleased with the way the talks went but they're going to meet again today. In the meantime, they've announced, as you said, by the end of the day today if they're not moving towards new elections or some other resolution, that's the deadline that they have set.

I don't know how strictly they're actually going to be able to adhere to that deadline but we'll have to see what happens.

INSKEEP: You mentioned President Yanukovych. He's the central guy here. He did win an election in 2010 and is now under pressure to call an early election. Is he even legally able to do that? And is he in any sense willing to do that?

ENGLUND: Well, he won an election in 2004 as well, but it was so obviously rigged that this led to the Orange Revolution, and Ukrainians found a way to call a new election, which they did, which he lost. He came back, he won in 2010. It was an ordinary election and he won because the people who beat him in the Orange Revolution had done such a bad job of governing Ukraine.

If he felt that the only way to solve this was to accede to the demand and have new elections, I know they could find a way to do it.

INSKEEP: Is there fear of chaos there?

ENGLUND: Yes. This is a part of the world where people do have a little bit of a genius for solving problems at the absolute last moment, but it is hard to see how the country can be brought together after this.

INSKEEP: Will Englund of the Washington Post is in Kiev, Ukraine. Thanks very much.

ENGLUND: Thank you.

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