Yanukovych agrees to scrap harsh protest laws

Beleaguered Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych says he has agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest legislation that sparked violent clashes.

Yanukovych agrees to scrap harsh protest laws

The statement on his website came after he met top opposition figures.

It also said one of the opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has rejected Mr Yanukovych’s offer to become prime minister.

Earlier, protesters left Ukraine’s justice ministry after their storming of the building led the minister to threaten a state of emergency — but they continued to picket outside as they pressed for the president’s resignation and other concessions.

The protesters still occupy three sizeable buildings in Kiev city centre, including the city hall.

Justice minister Elena Lukash said she would ask the national security council to impose a state of emergency if the protesters did not quit the building, but she did not specify a deadline for leaving and it was not clear if the move outside would satisfy her.

Imposing a state of emergency would have been likely to cause more anger among protesters, who have clashed with police repeatedly over the past week, while three have died.

The protests began in late November when Mr Yanukovych shelved a long- awaited agreement to deepen ties with the EU and sought more support from Russia. The demonstrations grew in size and intensity after police violently dispersed two gatherings, and demonstrators then set up a large tent camp in Kiev’s main square.

Anger boiled over into clashes on Jan 19, days after Mr Yanukovych pushed through harsh new anti- protest laws. Protests also spread into other parts of the country, including some cities in the Russian-speaking east, the base of Mr Yanukovych’s support.

The Batkivshchyna party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, now headed by Yatsenyuk, called on its supporters to rally in Kiev’s Independence Square today in solidarity with opposition deputies.

“Come at 12 o’clock and support the deputies who are ready to take on themselves the responsibility for getting rid of these dictatorial laws,” a statement said.

Since November, the protest movement has turned into a mass demonstration, punctuated by clashes with police, against perceived mis-rule and corruption in the Yanukovich leadership.

Several hundred people camp round-the-clock on Kiev’s Independence Square and along an adjoining thoroughfare, while more radical protesters confront police lines at Dynamo football stadium some distance away.

The occupation of the justice ministry building was the third such action in four days.

Protesters occupied the agricultural ministry on Friday and only agreed to leave the energy ministry which they entered on Saturday after the minister warned their action could disrupt energy supplies.

Justice minister Olena Lukash said in a video statement: “If the justice ministry building is not vacated immediately, I will be forced to appeal... to the Council for National Security and Defence with a demand that introduction of a state of emergency in the country be discussed.”

A state of emergency would limit movements of people and vehicles, ban rallies, marches, and strikes, suspend the activity of political parties and introduce a curfew.

Ukraine said yesterday it would draw on another $2bn (€1.46bn) of credit — adding to $3bn already received for purchase of a bond — from a $15bn bailout package offered by Moscow after the former Soviet republic walked away from the deal with the EU.

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