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Ukraine's Yanukovich agrees to scrap anti-protest laws

© Photo: AFP

Video by Gulliver CRAGG

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-28

Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovich agreed on Monday to repeal some of the harsh anti-protest laws put in place by his government as US Vice President Joe Biden urged the beleaguered president to impose “immediate measures” to defuse two months of unrest.

"There was a political decision to abolish the January 16 laws that have caused so much discussion," a statement on the presidential website read.

The agreement was followed by a phone call by Biden, who urged Yanukovich to pull back riot police and work with the opposition on to de-escalate tensions between the government and protesters.

Biden also warned that "declaring a state of emergency or enacting other harsh security measures would further inflame the situation and close the space for a peaceful resolution," according to a White House statement.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara had already denied reports on Monday that the government would declare a state of emergency. “Today, this measure is not on the table,” he said.

Yanukovich met at a special session in parliament with the three main opposition leaders – former economy minister Arseny Yastenyuk, former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, and nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok. As part of the agreement, the president stipulated that jailed protesters would be released only if barricades are taken down and seized premises vacated.

“It doesn't seem very likely that the protest movement will be able to meet the condition of vacating premises because the leaders of the opposition don't really control the protesters,” FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kiev. “Protesters have repeatedly carried out actions that the leaders warned against,” he said.

Radical protesters earlier on Monday agreed to leave the premises of the justice ministry building they stormed on Sunday evening, but protesters still remain camped out in Kiev's city hall, the capital's trade unions building and various regional administration buildings across the country.

Crisis to dominate EU-Russia talks

The crisis is expected to dominate EU-Russia talks on Tuesday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Brussels, after which the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will travel to Kiev in a diplomatic effort reflecting growing international concern.

The protests began in November as a drive for EU integration after Yanukovich ditched a key deal with the bloc following pressure from Russia, but the movement has since turned into a drive to unseat the president.

At least three protesters have been killed in clashes with the security forces and the protests have spread far beyond their hub in Kiev to outlying regions, including Yanukovich's heartland in eastern Ukraine.

Yanukovich offered on Saturday to give the opposition posts in government and to impose changes in the constitution that would reduce the powers of the presidency and boost the government.

But opposition leaders have said they will press ahead with their movement until all their demands are met – including early elections.

Yatsenyuk formally turned down the offer of the post of prime minister, made by Yanukovich at the weekend, during the talks on Tuesday.

Klitschko, who was offered the job of deputy prime minister, had already dismissed it as "a poisonous offer" aimed at driving a wedge between the leaders of the demonstrations.

Taking a more radical line than many in the opposition, the jailed leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, earlier urged opposition leaders to reject the "humiliating terms" set by the presidency.

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia news website reported on Monday that the government was planning to massively expand the Berkut riot police force blamed for much of the violence in Kiev by six times, to 30,000 people.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

 

Date created : 2014-01-28

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