International Criminal Court prosecutor to open initial probe on Ukraine

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The International Criminal Court's (ICC's) chief prosecutor has opened a initial probe into crimes committed before and during the fall of Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, the court said on Friday.

"The prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, has decided to open a preliminary investigation into the situation in the Ukraine to establish whether... the criteria for opening a (full) investigation are met," The Hague-based court said in a statement.

"The prosecutor shall consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice," before deciding on a full investigation, the ICC added, saying the initial investigation was opened "as a matter of policy".

"If there was a reasonable basis for an investigation, it is then up to her (Bensouda) to ask the court's judges for authorisation," ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told AFP.

Ukraine earlier this month accepted ICC jurisdiction to probe alleged crimes committed between Nov 21, when pro-European Union demonstrations erupted in Kiev, and February 22, when Mr Yanukovych was ousted.

Kiev has not signed up to the ICC's founding Rome Statute, but can ask for a probe to be opened.

Its Parliament called in February for the ICC to prosecute Mr Yanukovych for the "mass murder" of protesters in Kiev calling on him to stand down, a crisis that has sparked the current Ukraine-Russia stand-off.