Ukraine president approves amnesty, repeals anti-protest laws

AFP , Friday 31 Jan 2014

Anti-government protesters work on barricades at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev January 31, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday signed a law offering an amnesty to jailed opposition activists and repealed controversial laws cracking down on protests, his office said.

The amnesty bill passed by parliament on Wednesday gives protesters a 15-day deadline to vacate the public buildings they have occupied in order for it to be implemented.

Under the law, protesters will have to vacate the flashpoint Grushevsky Street in the capital Kiev, where several activists were shot dead during bitter clashes with security forces during a recent outbreak of violence.

They will also have to leave streets and squares they have been occupying "except those where peaceful protest actions are taking place".

This opens the possibility that protesters could be allowed to stay at their tent city on Kiev's Independence Square.

The amnesty law was backed by Yanukovych's Regions Party and passed in a chaotic late-night session.

Opposition lawmakers did not vote for the amnesty law, stressing that it would mean the jailed protesters were effectively being held hostage until the buildings were freed.

Yanukovych, who on Thursday went on indefinite sick leave, also signed legislation scrapping draconian anti-protest laws passed earlier this month which radicalised the two-month protest movement.

The laws had made the occupation of public buildings punishable by up to five years in prison, outlawed protest convoys of more than five cars and imposed a ban on protesters wearing masks or helmets.

The measures seen as a concession to the protest movement are unlikely to placate opposition leaders, who are gearing up to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior foreign officials in Germany this weekend.

The nation is facing its worse crisis since its 1991 independence.

Opposition supporters are digging in at their protest camp on Kiev's central square known as the Maidan despite a string of earlier concessions from the authorities, including Yanukovych's acceptance of his prime minister Mykola Azarov's resignation.

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