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Ukraine wants runaway president to face international justice

Source: Reuters - Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:24 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Parliament says Yanukovich committed serious crimes

* Hague tribunal awaiting request from Kiev

* Yanukovich aide reported shot and wounded

* Klitschko confirms he will run for president

By Timothy Heritage and Natalia Zinets

KIEV, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ukraine's parliament voted on Tuesday to send fugitive President Viktor Yanukovich to be tried by the International Criminal Court for "serious crimes" committed during violent anti-government protests in which scores were killed.

A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovich, who was ousted on Saturday and is now on the run, to police violence against protesters which it said had led to the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states.

The Hague-based court said it would need a request from the government of Ukraine giving it jurisdiction over the deaths.

With early elections set for May 25, one of Ukraine's most prominent opposition figures, retired world boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, confirmed he would run for president.

Yanukovich was indicted for "mass murder" on Monday over the shooting of demonstrators and is now on the wanted list, having last been seen at Balaclava in Crimea, near Russia's Sevastopol naval base.

An aide said be on the run with Yanukovich was shot in the leg, his spokesman said. It was not clear where the aide, Andriy Klyuev, was, or whether he with the fugitive leader.

The assembly resolution said former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka, who are also being sought by the authorities, should also be sent for trial at the ICC.

"Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovich and other high-level people criminally responsible for issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders", the resolution said.

Authorities under Yanukovich had systematically abused their power. Police tortured protesters, including holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, the resolution said.

COURT JURISDICTION

The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which since its founding in 2002 has handled only cases from Africa, said it could intervene if Ukraine requested it to.

"A government can make a declaration accepting the court's jurisdiction for past events," said court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah, and it would then be up to the court's prosecutor to decide whether or not to open an investigation.

Ukraine never signed the treaty that created the ICC, meaning the court has no automatic jurisdiction over recent events in the country. If the government formally invites it in, however, the court would have the power to investigate.

But a decision to invite the court in will not automatically lead to an investigation, and nor will Ukraine have any say over who might be investigated.

The tribunal has jurisdiction only over serious international crimes, and then only if local authorities are unable or unwilling to deal with those crimes themselves.

Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said Yanukovich as wanted for the "mass murder of peaceful citizens".

Yanukovich left Kiev by helicopter on Friday, heading for his power base in the east, where he was prevented from flying out of the country and then diverted south to Crimea.

Yanukovich's fall has revived fears that the former Soviet state of 46 million might split along the fault line that divides its pro-Western and pro-Russian regions.

In a fresh warning to the European Union and United States not to try to shape Ukraine's future, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine must not be forced to choose between Russia and the West.

COMPETING FOR INFLUENCE

Both Russia and the West, while competing for influence over Ukraine under its new rulers, have said publicly that they do not want a split to happen.

Moscow has said it will not deal with those who led an "armed mutiny" against Yanukovich, who was backed by Russia, and said it fears for the lives of its citizens. Many Russians live in the Russian-speaking east and Crimea on the Black Sea.

"It is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: 'You are either with us or against us'," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

Both Russia and the West should use political contacts in Ukraine to calm the situation down and not seek advantage at a time when national dialogue is needed, Lavrov said.

Unrest erupted in Ukraine after Yanukovich abandoned a proposed trade pact with the EU and turned instead towards Moscow, which offered loans and cheaper supplies of gas.

The EU's foreign policy chief said Russia should behave like a good neighbour and let Ukraine move forward in the way it chooses after three months of conflict.

Catherine Ashton, the first senior foreign official to visit Kiev since the overthrow of Yanukovich, said the EU understood the need for strong links between Kiev and Moscow, but that a strong message should be sent about Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Voicing "strong support" for Ukraine's new leaders at a news conference, Ashton urged them to form an "inclusive" government and focus on getting the country through short-term problems.

She gave no details of any foreign financial assistance, saying the EU would work with the International Monetary Fund but the IMF would make its own assessment of the situation.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

The finance ministry in Kiev has said the country needs $35 billion in foreign financial assistance over the next two years and says the money needs to start coming through in the next week or two.

The hryvnia currency fell to an all-time low on Tuesday, reflecting political uncertainty.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European parliament he was committed to supporting Ukraine.

"I launch from here an appeal to all our international partners, in particular Russia, to work constructively with us to guarantee a united Ukraine that can be a factor for stability in the European continent."

He added: "The winds of change are knocking again at Ukraine's doors; the will of the people must prevail."

EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said bridging aid of 1 billion euros might be available, Polands's PAP news agency reported.

Ukraine's parliament meanwhile put off plans to vote on the formation of a national unity government until Thursday to allow consultations to continue.

In Independence Square, the crucible of Ukraine's revolution, hundreds of people milled around showing no sign of ending the protest they hope will be used to hold their new rulers to account.

Maria Meged, 25, a tourism manager from Kiev, came with her mother and father to lay a yellow tulip among the bouquets that snake in a line up the hill from the square.

"Those who died were our brothers. This camp should stay until the old president is in prison and every part of the government has a new face." (Additional reporting by Matt Robinson and Richard Balmforth in Kiev and Elizabeth Piper in Moscow; Thomas Escritt in The Hague; Writing by Giles Elgood)

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