Ukraine Protests: Prime Minister Calls It Quits Amidst Uproar

Scott Rutherford

Ukraine protests: They began in November over President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign a trade deal that had been several years in the making with the European Union - choosing instead to accept a hefty and unpopular bailout from Russia. For the most part, the demonstrations were peaceful until after January 16, when the Ukrainian government enacted laws limiting the activists' right to protest. Now, Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has offered his resignation.

According to a BBC report, Azarov said of his resignation:

"To create additional opportunities for social and political compromise and for a peaceful solution to the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the president of Ukraine to accept my resignation as prime minister of Ukraine."

Under Ukrainian law, President Yanukovych must sign the resignation for it to become official and if he does, the entire cabinet will be resigned, though some officials may retain their posts for up to 60 days.

The Ukraine protests began in the capital city of Kiev, but have recently spread throughout much of the country. Ukraine's government responded to the protests by enacting laws which prohibited protesters from wearing helmets, blockading government buildings, setting up tents in public places or slandering government officials.

The protests have since become violent, accounting for at least four deaths and dozens of injuries as police with riot shields face off against massed protesters with gasoline bombs and improvised weapons behind makeshift barricades. Protesters currently occupy Kiev's central square and government buildings in at least 10 other cities throughout the Ukraine.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of President Yanukovych, early elections - elections are currently scheduled for 2015, a free trade agreement with the European Union and changes to the national constitution. Protesters are also demanding amnesty for previously arrested protesters and freedom for a number of political prisoners, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to a CNN report, Tymoshenko had this to say of the protesters:

"The people of Ukraine went out onto the Maidan [Kiev's central square] not for the opposition leaders to be given government posts, and not even for revoking of the dictatorial laws. The people want fundamental changes in their lives, justice in Ukraine and a path to European values. This is their last chance."

Prime Minister Azarov's proposed resignation is largely seen as symbolic. President Yanukovych had already offered the position of prime minister to the opposition coalition this weekend, suggesting Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the center-right Fatherland Party for the job. Yatsenyuk refused.

US Vice President Joe Biden and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have both made overtures to Ukraine's government, encouraging them to seek a peaceful end to the Ukraine protests by addressing the protesters' concerns.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's Parliament responded by voting 361-2 to repeal the anti-protesting laws enacted on Jan. 16. Parliament also plans to discuss amnesty for protesters. The Ukrainian government has already offered amnesty to arrested protesters if the remaining activists clear the streets and turn over occupied buildings.

As of yet, there has been little sign of the Ukraine protests calming down. The UK's Channel 4 News reports the sentiments of one of the barricaded protesters in Kiev's Independence Square:

"I don't have a good feeling about this as I don't believe the people leading our government have the least a drop of humanity."

For now, at least, it appears that the activists are not backing down on the demands that sparked the Ukraine protests.