KIEV (AFP) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday replaced the head of the army’s general staff after announcing a new “anti-terror” operation in response to the country’s deadliest violence since its post-Soviet independence.
A brief presidential statement said Mr Yanukovych was appointing Yuri Iliin in place of Volodymyr Zamana to head the powerful post but provided no explanation for the decision.
Mr Zamana was known to have publically disagreed with Mr Yanukovych at the start of the month when the embattled Ukrainian leader first considered imposing a state of emergency in response to the wave of pro-EU protests gripping Kiev and other parts of the country.
The ousted army chief said on February 1 that “no one had the right to use the armed forces to restrict the rights of citizens” – a statement that won him wide praise in the protest movement.
The 51-year-old Iliin had until now served as the head of Ukraine’s navy. He has stayed out of the public limelight during Ukraine’s three-month political crisis but is viewed as a strong Yanukovych loyalist.
Mr Yanukovych had earlier on Wednesday announced that he was launching an “anti-terror” operation in response to a night of clashes between thousands of protesters and riot police that left at least 26 people dead.
It was not immediately clear when the operation would enter into force. It grants that army the right to detain suspects and hand them over for questioning to prosecutors and the police.