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Violence in Ukraine; Washington' Outrage over Ukraine; Journalists on Trial; Imagine a World

Aired February 20, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

A very bloody day today in Kiev, Ukraine, as clashes between protesters and police reached frightening new levels. Gunfire erupted in the city's Independence Square, with reports of petrol bombs flying and snipers raining down bullets from above.

Dozens are dead, many more injured in all of this violence, despite a truce that had been struck earlier in the day. Well, that unraveled as you can see. The protesters' chief medic (ph) says 100 people were killed today, 100. And the government says policemen also perished in the violence.

But through all the chaos, the true death toll is difficult to verify at this stage. The E.U. has now slapped sanctions on those responsible for the violence only hours after Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych met with European ministers for an urgent session.

The violent flare-up this week comes after three months of anti- government protests. They started, you'll remember, when President Yanukovych backed out of an agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia.

Since then, the demonstrations have morphed into a much broader protest against the government in place and fringe elements have also joined in.

Let's start with our Nick Paton Walsh. He's on the ground in Kiev.

Nick, bring us up to date.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Hala, right now behind me it is comparatively calm. But there's a sense of definite anxiety and anticipation here. The protest has since this morning's bloodshed have been fortifying a series of barricades up the road along the left-hand side of where I'm standing, where the shooting happened mostly yesterday.

We are in a hotel where there's -- bodies were laid out earlier on this morning. They have since been withdrawn, 11 at least of them taken away and certainly a crowd behind me now concerned because the police have been on their back foot for at least 12 hours and now the army is saying it reserves the right to use weapons to prevent the country from slipping into civil war. And the police have said they're giving weapons to their officers to protect themselves, their families, citing incidents, they say, of 67 of their officers being taken hostage.

I should point out we don't -- haven't seen any evidence or details to bolster up that accusation at this point, Hala. But nothing but increased rhetoric on both sides right now. The people behind me, frankly, furious at this increasing death toll -- Hala.

GORANI: Seeing video also that is quite graphic of what appears to be live fire used on some of the protesters. Tell us about that.

WALSH: Well, earlier on this morning when these clashes began, there was a medical worker down on the street who a colleague called Baxter was very close to when it appears they were shot. We now -- that was one of a number of people who were shot down in that area, dragged along, many of them, on makeshift stretchers. A lot of them -- I saw about a dozen injured, some perhaps already dead, being carried away.

We simply don't know for sure how many people have died here. One medical worker, working with the opposition, says about 100; we haven't seen the bodies ourselves. We know of 13 down here; I've seen a lot of pictures on social media to suggest there have been other areas around this square where the bodies themselves have been collected.

It's that sense of uncertainty that's increasingly here as well. Certainly also that the administration rather than trying to calm things and maintain that sense of ease that they talked about with the truce yesterday is talking about the need to take on what they refer to as terrorist elements here and Viktor Yanukovych was not addressing the nature and appears to have been speaking to other world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, one of his key backers and sponsors here, and Putin, rather than offering a particularly forthright vote of support has instead agreed to send what are human rights ombudsmen to look in here, to act as a negotiator between both sides.

So we're still waiting in the quiet here while Moscow's fullest volley of support will be, Hala.

GORANI: All right. Thanks very much, Nick Paton Walsh in Kiev.

Well, it hasn't been easy to make contact with Ukrainian officials during this crisis, but we were lucky enough to talk to the foreign minister yesterday before many of these developments emerged.

And today we managed to get a hold of Yuriy Sergeyev. He's Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations and he joins me now from the United Nations in New York.

Ambassador Sergeyev, first let me get your reaction to what we've been seeing all over social media as well as on television screens around the world and that is video of Ukrainian security forces using live ammunition on protesters. We're seeing some video as well of snipers and reporters on the ground saying many of the dead died of bullet wounds.

And therefore the government of Ukraine being very much accused of a heavy-handed response here.

How do you respond?

YURIY SERGEYEV, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Good evening. First of all, if you permit me to express my deepest condolences to the families and friends of -- for those who were killed in all these atrocities, today is a national mourning day for the killed people.

Answering your question, what we have today is a deep, deep multisided crisis, political, constitutional, social. This crisis has its roots both in the past and in the recent developments. Unfortunately, the confrontation as we see from your reportage from Kiev, led to the huge amount of the casualties.

It's a big pity what happened. The only way to -- out of this crisis, to put all the parties involved to the negotiating table. This is what we are observing the -- we are observing the missions from European Union, from United States, are trying to mediate, mitigate and even today the three ministers from France, Germany and Poland, they --


GORANI: Forgive me, Ambassador, just -- we -- I want to get to that meeting in a moment. But I want to again revisit the death toll here and how some of these demonstrators died because we have eyewitness accounts of reporters in hotel lobbies counting bodies one after the other with bullet wounds to the head. It appears as though the police have been given authority to use live ammunition on demonstrators in Kiev.

SERGEYEV: Yes, the bullets (ph) should be stopped and what is needed, the wisdom and responsibility from all the sides, the first demand of all the people from around the world to stop the violence and then to return to negotiations. This is badly needed. We are too far with this crisis. When people are being killed for nothing --

GORANI: So you're saying the government itself should hold back, should pull its security forces back in light of what's emerged over the last 24 hours, you're saying -- are you saying that the response was heavy- handed?

SERGEYEV: Every party involved, as I said, should demonstrate wisdom and to stop any actions which are bringing to the -- to the deepening of the clashes and to -- and killing the people. This is obvious.

GORANI: What should the government do now? What should it do now to try to solve this crisis?

Your government?

SERGEYEV: Sadly, the only way to stop all the usage of all the -- all the weaponry, to stop the violence and to sit together and to continue the dialogue, I understand that after the visit of three ministers, who met also the opposition, the president invited the opposition to have a talk. So we count on the results of this talk as well as we count on the wisest (ph) of the parliamentarians to try to gather today in the parliament and to find the solution out of the crisis, provide a solution of the constitutional crisis.

GORANI: So, Ambassador, you're saying the government should stop using weaponry and dialogue should restart?

SERGEYEV: Yes, sure. Sure, this is what the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in his recent message. This is what was said in other messages of leaders of other countries. This is obvious that the violence should be stopped.

GORANI: The European Union is approving sanctions, asset freezes against members of the government they consider to be responsible for the violence as well as visa bans. Do you think this will -- well, let me ask you for a more general reaction to that. The United States also considering sanctions against those it considers responsible for the violence.

How do you react to that?

SERGEYEV: But the most important -- now I am repeating myself again. The most important -- not the judging what is going on, but to stop the violence and what United States, what European Union, what other countries trying to state and to pursue, Ukraine is to do, to stop the violence.

GORANI: Well, we -- I got that point, sir. I just wanted your reaction to the idea that sanctions will be imposed.

I mean, do you think they're justified?

SERGEYEV: I'm not condoning (ph) any sanctions, not (INAUDIBLE) of any government. The most important, the messages they are sending to stop the violence and to return to the negotiations because still it is possible, still possible not to move -- it -- any deeper -- any deeper atrocities. That's why the -- what's -- the Ukrainians is important mediation, litigation and as well as the wisdom from all other partners, not to make any one-sided judgment, which could not be helpful to settle the crisis.

So this is a complexity of measures to be -- to be introduced.

GORANI: All right. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, thank you very much for joining us here on CNN --

SERGEYEV: Thank you.

GORANI: -- on what's a very crucial and difficult time for your country.

Let's get a reaction now from the United States. The White House today has urged President Viktor Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his forces from Kiev and respect peaceful protesters.

Joining me now on the phone from Kiev, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us. Were you able to hear Ambassador Sergeyev?


GORANI: Hello. And what's your reaction to what he said, essentially that both sides now need to pull back?

PYATT: Well, I think there's a lot of wisdom in what Ambassador Sergeyev had to say. I mean, this is one of the things which struck me today as I've been talking to a lot of political and business community leaders, everybody agrees. This is the most tragic day in the history of Ukraine.

And decisive action is needed now to restore stability and peace in the capital and bring politics, as I said the other day, off the street and back into the Rada.

I have been impressed at the number of senior business leaders and party of regents members I've spoken with, who have been outraged by the images that we saw this morning of security forces firing on protesters. Understand that this is something that has no precedent in Ukraine's history. And are very eager to work with the opposition and to work across Ukrainian society to rebuild some kind of a -- of a political consensus in this country that will allow politics to begin to normalize --

GORANI: Sure --

PYATT: -- but that's going to take action by President Yanukovych.

GORANI: -- right, but, Ambassador, you know, we've been highlighting of course some of that video showing what appears to be snipers and demonstrators killed as a result of live ammunition being used. We believe by security forces; this is all still kind of playing out on the ground. But we're also seeing some evidence, it appears, of demonstrators armed here.

I mean, it's not just one side shooting on the other. They're throwing Molotov cocktails; some of them also are armed.

So is it both sides? Or do you think there's -- can we say there's -- the responsibility is shared here or not?

PYATT: I would -- I would answer it this way, Hala. First of all, it's very clear that for the United States, the preponderance of responsibility rests with President Yanukovych. He is the head of government. That being said, we have been very clear in condemning violence on both sides. I had that conversation again today; in fact, just about an hour ago with Andre Courbet (ph), the head of the Maidan operations, who underlined that he was eager to restore the character of non-violence that really -- that was the defining characteristic of the Maidan demonstration movement from the end of November until violence broke out about a month ago.

And he indicated that if the -- if the government does as the White House has suggested, and pulls back forces from the center of the city, and stops the snipers, that he is confident that the Maidan leadership, the political leadership of the country, will be able to restore calm and will cooperate in that effort.

Because what's happening right now is that the extremes on both sides are gathering strength because Ukraine's political institutions are not playing their appropriate role.

GORANI: Do you -- who has a -- I mean, do you think that President Yanukovych needs to step down at this point, that this is kind of now the only solution that will calm things down? Would that be your position?

PYATT: No, it's not. Our position is that President Yanukovych needs to lead his country into a new future and he needs to do so through the vehicle of a new government, changes to the constitution and the political order. There's a lot of discussion this evening about early elections and I understand that there were some suggestions made by President Yanukovych to the three visiting European foreign ministers who were here; of course, we're working very closely with our European partners as we shape our approach.

GORANI: And --

PYATT: But the most important thing for right now is the Rada, the parliament, where members are meeting right now, needs to do its job; there needs to be a political reset that creates an environment to get politics back into institutions. And that's going to take a significant change in the power structures. It's going to take very strong signals that those responsible for the atrocious violence of the past -- the past -- the past weeks will be held fully accountable. And a new technocratic government which is multiparty, reflects the opposition and the governing party of regents.

And I know that there are many members of the party of regents who share that vision.

GORANI: Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaking to us from Kiev, appreciate your time, Ambassador, thanks very much.

PYATT: Thanks, Hala.

GORANI: All right. And while getting the facts on the ground in Kiev is sometimes difficult and as you've seen downright dangerous, 2,300 kilometers to the south in Cairo, Egypt, reporters, journalists are facing a very different kind of threat from a military-led government intent on controlling the flow of information.

Case in point: three Al Jazeera journalists held for more than six weeks on charges of aiding terrorists. They finally got their day in court today and I'll ask one of their colleagues should government censorship, not journalists, be standing trial today in Egypt? We'll be right back.




GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane.

Members of the press gathered outside a heavily guarded Cairo courthouse as three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt appeared in court today for the first time since their arrest. Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were brought before a judge in a cage.

And while the court was in recess, they shouted messages to other journalists to pass on to their families. The three men were detained more than 50 days ago now. The Egyptian government accuses them of joining or aiding a terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the course of their work, which any journalist would do.

Journalists around the world have staged protests demanding their release and all three have pled not guilty to the charges against them.

A number of other Al Jazeera staff not present in the court today were also charged by Egyptian authorities. One of them is Sue Turton, a reporter for the network, and she joins me now from London.

Sue, we've spoken before about this case. What's the latest that you've heard from your colleagues with regards to their case today in Egypt?

SUE TURTON, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: Well, as you said, they were shouting messages to the various press in the press gallery in that courtroom. And really, the sense that we're getting is they almost are quite elated. I think they're just very relieved to see people they know and to know that the world is listening, that journalists like your own are there, covering this court case.

But I suppose the one message that we're all feeling is disappointment. We really had hoped that there might be an end to this whole saga today; the judge could have thrown the charges out of court. He could have granted them bail after he heard their pleas and really said that they could at least go and stay somewhere else, not in this maximum security prison.

But instead he sent them back to jail for another 10 days before the trial will continue on the 5th of March.

GORANI: I mean, is there hope that at some point in the near future, that this case could be thrown out, that their lawyers could make the case, which is such a legitimate one, obviously, that you're going to be in touch with all sides when covering events in a country.

I mean, is there still hope there? Or is the belief that this case is going to go forward?

TURTON: You know, Hala, we just don't know. We don't know what they're going to bring as supposed evidence, that we set up some sort of terrorist unit and we helped to promote this. We don't know what the general prosecutor is going to put before the court. And so far, all our lawyers have been given is some transcript, some of the interrogations that the three have been put through, as they've spent all this time in prison.

But we're not -- we're not really sure what they're going to put forward as evidence because we've -- we just can't see how they can prove that we -- what we're accused of. We just see it as completely baseless. And it's not something that a lawyer could ever even try to prove in court.

GORANI: And some of the messages I understand that were sent out from Peter, the reporter speaking through journalists, his brother, Mohammed Fahmy, promising a big wedding to his fiancee, it's heart breaking hearing that, coming from a cage, having to send messages to your family through journalists gathered there.

But we've been talking about this case for weeks now. And there's the prominent campaign that I've seen many places, the free AJE staff hashtag, #FreeAJEStaff.

Do you think it's in any way putting pressure on authorities?

TURTON: Well, we do know from the messages that they were shouting in court, they were saying keep up the support, keep up the pressure. And it does seem that they were put into a jail cell a couple of weeks ago together, that that might have been a direct result of there being this huge global support.

And we're so grateful for everybody for making such a noise, not just about our guys in prison and also we've got an Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent who's been in prison for 190 days since he was arrested last summer.

But also for the whole of press freedom. You just touched on earlier about how there is this huge crackdown going on on the whole -- in the whole of Egypt, where the people can't go about doing their journalistic business. They can't go and report freely any more. And there is a real fear on the streets for foreign correspondents and, of course, local correspondents. We're not really seeing any kind of domestic media speaking out against the government, the military-backed government anymore.

People have a right to know. People in Egypt have a right to know what's going on. And certainly people all over the world -- and I think maybe people should recognize that they need journalists. They need journalists on the street of every country and freedom of the press is of paramount importance if a country's going to move towards democracy.

GORANI: And we'll continue to try sending that message as often as we can. Sue Turton, Al Jazeera correspondent, many thanks for appearing on this program today.

And by the way, we invited the Egyptian government onto the program to give us its view and it declined.

After a break, we'll move in for a close-up of the protest in Ukraine, a dramatic portrait of the faces versus the state's blood (ph) when we come back.




GORANI: And a final thought tonight, for months now, we've watched at a distance as the protests in Ukraine have become increasingly more violent and deadly. Now imagine a world where a closer look reveals a crisis with every human face.

Sometimes it seems so simple. The eyes of those seeking change confronted by the blank stare of authority. The faceless ones in uniforms massed together to face down the demonstrators while the demonstrators mask their faces to resist the blinding clouds of tear gas.

Among them there are smoke-streaked faces that have seen it all and the face of a warrior priest straight out of the Middle Ages in cross and shield, faces that have paid a terrible price and bear the bloody scars, faces on fire as police move in and protesters set their own barricades ablaze.

But beneath the helmets and the visors a glimpse of other young men with faces just like theirs. Still the smoke keeps rising on the faces of legends remembered and those being born. And tonight as the fires burn on and on, the face and the future of Ukraine remains in the dark.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter @HalaGorani. Thanks for watching and goodbye from the CNN Center.