Mykola AzarovPresident Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, according to the president's official website. Azarov's government will continue working until the new prime minister is appointed. Azarov, who has led Ukraine's government since Yanukovych took power in 2010, was forced out to ease tensions in Ukraine's ongoing political crisis, kyivpost.com reports.
His departure comes on the same day that parliament voted to rescind anti-democratic laws curbing free speech and free assembly. The adoption of those laws with no public notice and no roll call vote ignited public anger.
A tense standoff between police and protesters began Jan. 19 on Hrushevskoho Street in Kyiv, triggered by the Jan. 16 laws. The confrontation turned deadly with the fatal shootings of three activists as police tried to disperse the crowd. Up to 300 more demonstrators were injured that day. The standoff continues today.
Even with Azarov out of the way, a step that will force the resignation of all his ministers, the political opposition says the step won't be enough to end the political crisis or stop the two-month-old EuroMaidan demonstrations.
"It's not a victory. It's only a step to the victory," said Vitali Klitschko, who leads the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance For Reforms Party. Echoed Andriy Pavlovsky of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party: "It's a small step to resolve the confrontation."
Azarov said in a statement: “The conflict situation that prevailed in the country, threatening the economic and social life of Ukraine , is a threat to the entire Ukrainian society and every citizen. During the confrontation the government did as much as we can for the peaceful resolution of conflict. We have done and are doing everything to prevent bloodshed, escalating violence, violations of human rights. The government provided the functioning of the economy and social security system in extreme conditions. In order to create more opportunities for social and political compromise for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the president of Ukraine to accept my resignation from the post of prime minister of Ukraine."
Azarov has been a powerful and controversial figure on the Ukrainian political scene for decades. He was implicated in alleged high-level corruption while serving as tax chief to then-President Leonid Kuchma. His voice is alleged to have been captured on audiotapes recorded by Mykola Melnychenko, Kuchma's bodyguard, as using tax inspectors and prosecutors to harass political enemies. Azarov has always consistently denied any wrongdoing and, like other officials captured on the hundreds of hours of recordings, challenged their authenticity.
He lost a lot of credibility in recent months for his handling of the anti-government EuroMaidan demonstrators. He dismissed protesters as "terrorists" and his interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, presided over an occasionally violent police crackdown that led to the deaths of four protesters, including three from gunshot wounds on Jan. 22. All the while, Azarov not only insisted that police did not fire on demonstrators, but that the police were not even armed -- a claim contradicted by eyewitness and other evidence.
The forcible police actions only seemed to spur demonstrators on even more. Today, thousands remain camped out on Independence Square and large crowds remain in a standoff with police on Hrushevskoho Street. This street is near Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and is part of a government district that includes the Cabinet of Ministers building and the Presidential Administration complex.
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Azarov's reputation had sunk so low that the elite gathered did not invite him to speak or attend all the events.