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Ukraine oppn calls for aid, 'tortured' militant flee

Ukraine's opposition on Sunday appealed for the first time for Western aid and mediation to end a deadly crisis and a protester whose account of torture has sparked international outrage flew out of the country for treatment.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2014 11:55 IST

Ukraine's opposition on Sunday appealed for the first time for Western aid and mediation to end a deadly crisis and a protester whose account of torture has sparked international outrage flew out of the country for treatment.

Dmytro Bulatov left Ukraine just hours after a Kiev court authorised his departure despite a criminal case still hanging over him for helping to organise a wave of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych. The 35-year-old activist, who has said he was seized and held by captors who cut off his ear and drove nails through his hands, flew into Vilnius where he will receive medical treatment. With still no end in sight to the crisis, the president's office meanwhile said the 63-year-old Yanukovych was due to return to work on Monday following four days off sick with an "acute respiratory infection".

With the opposition so far receiving only verbal pledges of international support, former economy minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a rally of more than 60,000 people in Kiev that it was time for "real financial aid". Boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko said there was also a need for an international role to avoid "misunderstandings" in negotiations between the opposition and Yanukovych that have proved inconclusive. The violence in Ukraine has eased but tensions were still high, as shown by a standoff between opposition lawmakers and protesters on one side and police on the other outside a Kiev clinic treating Bulatov. The father of three said he was kidnapped and tortured for eight days before being dumped in a forest.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "appalled" but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara dismissed the man's account and said his injuries were just "a scratch". Under overwhelming pressure after Germany and Lithuania offered medical treatment for the man, a Kiev court on Sunday authorised him to leave the country for treatment abroad. Two Russian pro-opposition journalists also said they were stopped by a car with blacked-out windows and no number plate, beaten and told to return to Russia. At the sprawling protest camp in Kiev that has been the epicentre for demonstrations that have spread across Ukraine, the crowd shouted its defiance against Yanukovych. The president has accepted the resignation of his prime minister and repealed hugely controversial anti-protest laws that had radicalised the protest movement. But the opposition still has a number of demands, including an overhaul of the constitution to take away presidential powers and the unconditional release of all the scores of protesters arrested so far. Opposition leaders are also asking for a presidential election scheduled in 2015 to be brought forward to this year, while most of the demonstrators in the streets want Yanukovych to resign immediately.

'All in our hands'
Yanukovych "should resign along with parliament if he wants a peaceful resolution," said Oksana Hodakivska, a dentist from the northwestern region of Zhytomyr, at the Kiev protest. Hodakivska said she did not hold out much hope for Western pressure on Yanukovych. "EU officials can temporarily stop the violence when they visit Ukraine but they are not going to keep coming here. "It's all in our hands," she said.

But Yuriy Krenyuk, a pensioner from the Ivano-Frankivsk region, said Western powers could help resolve the crisis by putting pressure on the foreign assets held by Ukrainian oligarchs who back Yanukovych. "If the oligarchs' bank accounts are blocked then the question of Yanukovych's resignation can be resolved very quickly," he said. "Without the president's resignation, people will not leave the Maidan," he said referring to Independence Square by its local name. Ukraine's worst protests since independence in 1991 began when Yanukovych in November turned down a pact with the European Union under pressure from former master Moscow.

Ukraine is struggling to break free of a painful recession and Russia has put on hold until a new government is formed a $15 billion (11 billion euro) bailout package that has been propping up the economy. What started out as a pro-EU movement has turned into a campaign to oust Yanukovych. Four people -- two protesters and two police officers -- have been killed in clashes. Europe and the United States have pledged support for the protests and have threatened sanctions against Ukrainian officials. Adding to the pressure, both US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Ashton are due to return to Ukraine this week. Russia has condemned this as foreign interference and has dismissed the protesters as far-right extremists bent on violence.