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Ousted Ukraine leader spared arrest for sake of stability – acting interior minister

February 26, 2014, 20:49 UTC+3 KIEV

Viktor Yanukovych has been spared arrest to keep the situation in the country under relative control

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Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych

© ITAR-TASS/Vladimir Sindeev

KIEV, February 26. /ITAR-TASS/. Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said Wednesday that the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been spared arrest to keep the situation in the country under relative control.

“Police and all law enforcement structures received instructions from me and [head of the Ukrainian Security Service Valentin] Nalivaichenko to do everything possible to prevent conflicts with the local population,” Avakov told journalists. “A group of envoys from the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] is working in Crimea, and we will resolve all issues through dialogue.”

“I am calling on all Interior Ministry forces to prevent clashes between pro-Russian forces and forces in favor of closer integration with Europe as well as groups of the Crimean Tatar people. This is not a position of weakness. That’s why we did not react toughly in regard to Yanukovich, in order to keep the situation stable and not give a reason to the neighboring state,” Avakov said.

However, on February 24, when Avakov and Nalivaichenko made a short working visit to the city of Simferopol in the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea, they said Yanukovich’s whereabouts were unknown to them. Yanukovich, 63, was put on a wanted list on that day, but later.

Anti-government protests that have sometimes turned violent have been underway in Ukraine since November 2013, when the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union at a Vilnius summit, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.

A new wave of riots started February 18 and eventually caused President Yanukovych to flee his residence outside Kiev. The Verkhovna Rada took over and appointed its new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, as interim head of state and set early presidential elections for May 25.

Yanukovych called the developments “a coup.” His current whereabouts are unknown, but Avakov said Monday the ousted leader had been in Crimea in southern Ukraine on Sunday accompanied by a few security guards.

Avakov has said Yanukovych and other officials are on a wanted list for involvement in “mass murder” during protests. Meanwhile, acting Prosecutor General Oleg Makhnitsky said Wednesday Yanukovych had been put on an international wanted list, according to the Unian news agency.

A deputy Ukrainian prosecutor general, Nikolai Golomsha, told journalists on Wednesday that Yanukovych was still in Ukraine. However, some Ukrainian media claimed he had already crossed the border with Russia.

A total of 82 people have been killed and 787 have turned to the Ukrainian capital’s medical institutions for help, with 527 of them hospitalized, since the start of the latest violence on February 18, according to the latest data from the Ukrainian Health Ministry.

Following Yanukovych’s disappearance, the Verkhovna Rada also restored the 2004 Constitution that gave broader powers to parliament and canceled the law on the fundamentals of the state language policy, which had given Russian the status of a regional language in 13 out of 27 Ukrainian regions, including Crimea, where Russians and Ukrainians constitute the majority of about 85 percent, and Crimean Tatars account for about 15 percent.

Meanwhile, participants of two rallies, one pro-Russian and the other apparently anti-Russian, in front of Crimea’s parliament clashed earlier Wednesday.

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