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No provoking a state of emergency

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Dec. 3, 2013, 7:13 a.m. | Op-ed — by Halya Coynash

People shout slogans and wave hands during a rally of the opposition on the Independence Square in Kiev on December 2, 2013. Ukraine's prime minister on Monday compared pro-EU demonstrations in the country to a coup, branding them illegal and "out of control". Tens of thousands have been protesting in Kiev, occupying City Hall and blocking entrances to the government headquarters, in an ongoing standoff after the government failed to sign a key EU pact. AFP PHOTO/GENYA SAVILOV
© AFP

Halya Coynash

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

If the clashes provoked by masked young men during the mass demonstrations in Kyiv on Dec. 1 were aimed at justifying imposition of a state of emergency, they will encounter major difficulties.  As well as fairly clear evidence of deliberate provocation, there are also legislative hurdles. 

 According to the law passed in 2000, the president may in certain circumstances, including the blocking of government, call a state of emergency. The president must, however, first warn of such an intention.  He can then issue a decree, however this only comes into force if parliament gives its consent. 

Before the violent dispersing of peaceful young protesters early on Nov 30, President Viktor Yanukovych might have felt confident that any such decree would be stamped and approved without question.  Even the opposition’s blocking of parliament proved a mere inconvenience on April 4 with parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak simply organizing an offsite “parliamentary session” at the cabinet of ministers building.  The clear illegitimacy of the event, exacerbated by the refusal to admitmembers of the opposition, did not stop the president from signing the documents “adopted” into law.

The bloody measures against young people exercising their right to peaceful support for European integration should have dispelled any blithe confidence in obedient Party of the Regions MPs.  As of early Monday afternoon, four MPs have announced that they are leaving the pro-presidential Party of the Regions.  The number seems likely to grow, especially since the first MP to declare her resignation, Inna Bohoslovska has also publicly stated that the provocation on Bankova St, near the president’s administration on Dec. 1 could have been organized by the ruling Party of the Regions. 

This view is widely held and was expressed in an interview given by the head of the Centre for Legal and Political Reform, Ihor Koliushko.   He was asked what reasons could be given for declaring a state of emergency.  There can be various grounds, he explained, but specifically mentioned the events on Bankova St on Sunday when masked men in a bulldozer clashed violently with Berkut riot police outside the president’s administration.  Koliushko is convinced that the whole stunt was deliberately contrived to give grounds for imposing or suggesting a state of emergency “or simply to discredit the protest in the eyes of the international community”.  He points out that nobody, except the authorities, can bring a bulldozer to Bankova St and that the whole performance was somehow absurd, with the supposed protesters not even attacking, but simply driving about in front of the Berkut officers.  As reported, there were huge contingents of Berkut officers outside the president’s administration on Sunday and virtually no police officers anywhere near the main demonstration despite the enormous numbers and the many calls for help against individuals, often masked, trying to cause conflict.   The police have now acknowledged that the “attack” on Bankova St was coordinated by Dmytro Korchynsky, described by Anton Shekhovtsov, a well-known specialist on far-right organizations as being “widely considered an agent provocateur, and his "Bratstvo" already took part in several actions that were meant to provoke police suppression of peaceful protests”.

There were desperate attempts by other demonstrators to dissuade the masked individuals who seized the bulldozer, with cries that this was a peaceful demonstration.  The fact that the main confrontations involved masked men, the conspicuous absence of police officers when demonstrators tried to hand over provocateurs trying to pick fights and numerous other indicators recorded on video, make the planned nature of the provocation clear. 

Huge numbers of people have joined the protests in Ukraine.  For many, the violent measures against peaceful protesters on Nov 30 were the final straw, the proof that the present regime would stop at nothing.  Very close scrutiny of the protests and unequivocal response to all indications of provocation are critically important. 

 Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

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