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Ukraine's president makes concessions as protests escalate

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-24

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich appeared to make major concessions to opposition leaders Friday, including promises to amend sweeping anti-protest laws and reshuffle the government, amid increasingly angry protests against his rule.

In comments to church leaders, reported by the Interfax news agency, Yanukovich said key decisions would be made at a special session of parliament scheduled to take place next Tuesday.

The move was immediately rejected by the president’s opponents, however, who said nothing short of Yanukovich’s resignation will do.

Yanukovich vowed that he would push through changes to the Cabinet, grant amnesty to dozens of jailed activists and change harsh anti-protest legislation signed into law last week.

“The president will sign a decree and we will reshuffle the government in order to find the best possible professional government team,” he said.

The dismissal of the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has been one of the main demands of the opposition in two months of unrest.

Referring for the first time to the need to work closely with the opposition, he said opposition leaders would be brought into an anti-crisis team which he would lead.

“I will do all I can to stop this conflict, to stop violence," he said.

But he added that if this was not possible “all legal methods” would be used to tackle the situation.

Klitschko: Yanukovich must resign

However, Vitaly Klitschko, the heavyweight boxer turned opposition leader, rejected Yanukovich’s proposed concessions, saying that the only way to end the street protests - known as the Maidan after the central Kiev square occupied by demonstrators - is for Yanukovich to resign.

“Just a month ago, the Maidan would have gone home,” Klitschko told reporters Friday night, according to the Interfax news agency. “Today, people are demanding the president’s resignation.”

Yanukovich sparked the first mass rallies against his rule last November after pulling out of a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord.

They have since spiralled into protests against misrule and corruption among Ukraine’s leaders and officials and there have been violent clashes with police in the city centre in which three protesters were killed this week.

Last Thursday, January 17th, the country’s parliament pushed through a controversial bill that criminalised acts of protest.

The bill made blockading public buildings punishable by up to five years in prison, while protesters who wear masks or helmets will face a fine or an administrative arrest. Dissemination of slander online was also banned.

However, the move seems to have backfired with protests, rather than dying down, becoming more violent in recent days.

Demonstrations have also spread from Kiev to other parts of the country and Friday night saw activists continue to occupy government buildings in a number of cities in the west of Ukraine, where support for Yanukovich is thin. Government buildings in many other cities were besieged by angry crowds.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-24

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